AURORA | When Aurora police shot and killed a man who attacked an officer with a meat cleaver and stole a police cruiser last month, one of the first phone calls they made was to their counterparts in Denver.
Under a state law passed last year, police departments must bring in investigators from an outside agency when one of their officers is involved in a shooting.
Aurora Police Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe said having a few extra sets of eyes look over an investigation has been helpful so far.
The departments already have worked together on a variety of regional efforts, including to combat gangs, and O’Keefe said that lengthy working history makes the transition easier.
The investigators from the two agencies work side-by-side on each case, O’Keefe said.
But, O’Keefe said, while the investigators from Aurora and Denver all bring a lot of experience, the fact that they come from different departments adds a helpful wrinkle to investigations.
“Those experiences are different,” he said. “And it’s an opportunity to have somebody from outside the agency actually take a look at the case.”
Under their current agreement, Aurora police send one command-level officer, one sergeant and two detectives to each officer-involved shooting, and DPD sends the same mix of investigators to Aurora.
The law’s requirement doesn’t actually take effect until after the first of the year, but O’Keefe said the departments opted to start the joint investigations early.
Through mid-December, the departments have investigated several shootings, including four in less than three weeks between the end of November and the middle of December.
At a press conference to discuss details of a Dec. 11 incident during which officers shot and killed a man who killed his girlfriend and stabbed her mother, Aurora police Commander Rob McGregor acknowledged there had been an uptick in officer-involved shootings in Aurora and Denver.
“It’s been a busy couple of weeks for both agencies,” he said.
State Sen. John Cooke, who sponsored the legislation last year, said that while most communities have ample faith in their local police, adding an extra layer to the investigation — and especially an outside agency — can add to that confidence.
“Especially a lot of the communities of color will say, ‘Alright, this isn’t one agency doing their own investigation, there is gonna be somebody from the outside who is going to be a part of this,’” he said.
The legislation didn’t mandate how many outside investigators need to work on a officer-involved shooting, and Cooke, the former Weld County sheriff, said that was by design.
While Aurora and Denver have massive police forces, small, rural jurisdictions may only have a few officers total, so they might only be able to assign a single investigator to assist an outside agency, he said.
“It’s not one size fits all,” he said.
Still, Cooke said, those rural communities are typically accustomed to working with outside investigators on homicide and officer-involved shooting cases, so they, too, should have an easy transition to bringing on someone from an outside agency.