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AURORA | After being sworn in last week, Art Acevedo has taken over as the Aurora Police Department’s latest interim chief and says he has plans to improve communication with officers and the public.

He takes over an agency that for several months has been in flux, as the city continues to roll out a laundry list of public safety reforms and hunt for a permanent replacement for Vanessa Wilson, who was fired in April.

“This is a partnership,” Acevedo said of APD’s relationship with the community.

“While we have a sworn duty to do everything we can to keep this community safe, to police in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of the Constitution, and state and federal law, and local ordinances, the safety of this community is a mutual responsibility. For us, it’s a sworn duty, but we have mutual responsibility to one another.”

Acevedo came to the U.S. as a child, fleeing Cuba with his family on one of the Freedom Flights that carried hundreds of thousands of refugees to the mainland in the 1960s and 70s. As an adult, he worked his way up the ranks of California’s Highway Patrol before leading police departments in Houston, Austin and, most recently, Miami.

During national protests against police brutality and racial profiling in 2020, Acevedo told a Congressional committee that he believed Americans of color had historically been treated unequally by police but that defunding police departments would only increase the need for police services.

Acevedo has made numerous national appearances, including a stint as a police expert for CNN, and during a “town-hall” meeting during the 2020 Democratic National Convention on issues surrounding police reform.

The chief has earned a reputation for being open to calls for reform and engaging with his critics, while also courting controversy for appearances on the talk show of Alex Jones, a right-wing conspiracy theorist who has promoted falsehoods about the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and 2020 election.

Acevedo told Denver7 last week that he spoke with Jones as part of the outreach he does with activists of all backgrounds, though he said he would be reluctant to return, as Jones had “gone from the deep end into the abyss.”

Acevedo was fired less than a year after being named chief of the Miami Police Department. Miami officials objected to a comment of Acevedo’s that the city was run by a “Cuban mafia” and said he failed to report damage to a city vehicle. Acevedo responded by suing the city, alleging that the firing was retaliation for speaking out about corruption and meddling in police discipline by local commissioners.

Aurora’s last permanent police chief also came into conflict with some of the city’s elected leaders. Wilson was criticized publicly by the city’s new conservative councilors for her approach to police reform and her leadership of the department around the time she was fired and replaced by Acevedo’s predecessor as interim chief, Dan Oates.

When asked last week during an interview how he would maintain his independence while also preserving a working relationship with a city council that often splits on questions of how to make the city safer, Acevedo said the circumstances of his departure from Miami should demonstrate to skeptics that he is an independent chief.

He said he hoped to provide expert guidance on public safety questions and share his opinion honestly regardless of the majority opinion of the council. He also said how, while working in Texas, he advocated for public education funding, and said he thought schools were integral for steering at-risk children away from street gangs.

Besides advocating for the department in public, Acevedo said he was also interested in expanding partnerships between APD, the Community College of Aurora and other local schools to boost officer recruitment, which for years has been a challenge for departments across the country.

“We never really talk about all of the great things that are going on. I think part of my job is to really help tell the story of when we do things right, which is more often than not, and as we start building that and exposing this community and beyond to a body of good work that’s going on, we’re gonna see people want to be cops,” he said.

“You’ve heard of the school-to-prison pipeline. Well, I want to start the school-to-policing and public service pipeline, and that can be done if we’re intentional, if we’re smart, if we’re thoughtful, and if we actually work on it.”

He encouraged residents to introduce themselves to officers on the beat. 

On the topic of reform, Acevedo told The Sentinel that he did not see a conflict between demands for police reform and the expectation that police address crime rates.

Aurora police entered into a consent decree with the state attorney general’s office last year to reform the city’s police and fire departments, after a state investigation found the agency had used force disproportionately against residents of color and engaged in other biased policing practices.

In spite of this, Acevedo insisted the consent decree did not mean the department was “broken” but said it gave the department a chance to advocate for the funding and training police officers need to do their jobs. He also said he did not “look at the consent decree as a challenge” but that he wanted to prioritize educating officers and the public about the contents of the decree.

“I want our cops to understand that no one is saying they’re broken. The majority of people know that, 99 times out of 100, you’re doing great work,” he said. “But just because you’re doing great work doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been instances where we can do better, and we want them to understand that this means that we’re going to be investing and provide them with the tools and the training and policies.”

“But here, like the rest of the country, a lot of officers feel like, ‘Man, everybody thinks we’re just we’re just a bunch of jackbooted stormtroopers,’ which is the furthest from the truth.”

Acevedo again said he wants to introduce a “disciplinary matrix” that would establish clear consequences for each violation of department policy, with penalties that would scale up for more senior officers.

He also said he believed it is important for the chief to be the final voice in matters of discipline, while frontline supervisors would be left in charge of the investigative and corrective action processes.

Acevedo said he planned to specifically examine the outcomes of the internal affairs cases against Division Chief Cassidee Carlson and Detective Julie Stahnke, who were both involved in an incident where Stahnke violated a restraining order against Stahnke’s ex-wife.

“I want to take a look at all these things involving discipline, including how that case is being handled and was handled, because I want to make sure that, moving forward, that we have evolved as an organization to follow the practices of good, 21st-century policing, management and oversight,” he said.

“This is a new chief. I was brought here to make change. … You see that desk? That’s where the buck stops.”

Unlike the city’s contract with Dan Oates, which barred Oates from seeking the permanent chief job, Acevedo’s contract leaves open the possibility that he could apply. Acevedo said that he hadn’t had any conversations with the city yet about staying on, but that he had agreed to “come here and give it my all.”

“When I got to Austin, I told everybody, ‘Hey, man, this organization, this train is on the move. And you’ve got two choices: you can jump on, and I promise you, when we get to our destination, we’re gonna end up in a good place. Or you can stand in the way and you’re gonna get run over,’” Acevedo said.

“Luckily, as I talked to our officers here, they want to be on the train, and they want to be on the ride. And I think they’re gonna enjoy the ride.”

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1 Comment

  1. I was in Houston, TX, when he took that job. I found his leadership style to be refreshing. He worked to involve the community and officers to find solutions. What I think is most important is that he is open to suggestions and change! I hope the council and city management give him a good chance. The consent decree is a sign that Aurora PD needs improved tactics in making arrests. Improvement does not mean that all of the officers are bad. I think it is quite the opposite. I think the vast majority are open to change and want to put controversy behind them and build a good reputation.

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