AURORA | The firm chosen to monitor Aurora’s implementation of public safety reforms again stressed its independence at a town hall Tuesday night, with its president promising listeners it would “hold the city’s feet to the fire.”
“We will hold the city’s feet to the fire, but at the same time, we will be providing and lending our expertise,” IntegrAssure president Jeff Schlanger vowed. “We will always call things as we see them.”
Schlanger said the firm has seen “exemplary cooperation” from Aurora Police Department and Aurora Fire Rescue since it was selected in February to oversee the city’s compliance with reforms described in the consent decree negotiated between Aurora and the state attorney general’s office.
“While we know that there are changes coming to the leadership of the police department, we fully expect, and in fact have been assured, that that degree of cooperation will continue,” Schlanger said, alluding to the recent firing of Police Chief Vanessa Wilson.
Wilson said she was ousted because of her staunch demands for police reform against pushback from some city council members and police union officials. City Manager Jim Twombly maintains Wilson was let go because of other, undetailed management concerns.
Acting Chief Chris Juul was present in-person for the Tuesday town hall.
“We will work, and we will do our work, irrespective of who may sit in which seat in city government,” Schlanger said.
He also said the city was “well underway in terms of reforms” outlined in the decree by the time IntegrAssure was hired.
Schlanger was joined by several other representatives of his firm, deputy attorney general Janet Drake, Twombly and community members, several of whom asked questions during a question-and-answer segment moderated by Mosaic Church of Aurora pastor Reid Hettich and Aurora NAACP president Omar Montgomery.
“You keep an eye on the independent monitor,” Twombly told the community, “who will keep an eye on the city, and I think working together like that, we’ll end up with a much-improved police and fire department. … It’s very important for our community to understand that we, the city, will be held accountable.”
IntegrAssure is also assembling a “community advisory council” made up of citizens and led by Hettich and Montgomery, Schlanger said. He described the group as the “finger on the pulse of the community” as reforms are enacted.
Firm representatives described some of their other priorities, including coming up with hiring and promotion processes that prioritize diversity and qualifications; monitoring police and fire policies, and specifically those policies concerning the sedative drug ketamine, which Elijah McClain was injected with before his death; and monitoring city agencies for deviation from the decree.
Schlanger said that, since February, representatives have been meeting with locals, providing limited technical assistance, going on ridealongs with police and fire, setting up the firm’s online presence and establishing the criteria to determine compliance with the decree.
After the presentations by Schlanger and others, community members were invited to ask questions of the group. Multiple people asked about training officers to interact with people who have mental health problems, as well as the potential impacts of stress and trauma on the mental health of officers.
Schlanger told one resident that, while the consent decree doesn’t address mental health specifically, mental health topics intersect with some of the reforms mentioned in the agreement.
“It is a component of many aspects of the consent decree, and specifically the use of force,” he said.
Twombly mentioned training the specialized crisis training encouraged for police officers by the city, and Drake said the attorney general’s office was conducting a statewide “job analysis” to eventually improve the training given to first responders.
Schlanger said past monitorships have resulted in improved mental health among officers, since “officers feel better about their job when communities feel better about them.” He also said the city had the best officer wellness programs he had seen in a police department.
Other community members expressed concerns over the firing of Wilson and what that could mean for the future of reform in the city. Wilson’s firing by Twombly came as conservative council members advocated for leadership changes in the department, and Wilson’s own attorney has cast the move as a political maneuver meant to stifle reforms.
Schlanger credited Juul in part for the cooperation that he said the firm has seen from police, saying Wilson had put Juul in charge of implementing the consent decree within the department.
“We will accept nothing less than a chief, both interim and ultimately permanent, who is committed to everything that Chief Wilson was committed to in terms of making sure that this consent decree reaches its goal of substantial compliance and a process of continuous improvement that will be sustained long after we leave,” Schlanger said.
“It looks like to me it’s going to be the same thing,” civil rights activist Alvertis Simmons countered.
Schlanger said IntegrAssure would be holding regular community meetings following the release of each of its quarterly progress reports during the first year. The next report is scheduled to be released online July 15. He encouraged residents interested in a spot on the new community advisory to apply online at www.auroramonitor.org.