Aurora police disproportionately use force against Black people, report says

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AURORA | Among police departments in the four largest cities in Colorado, only Aurora officers use force against Black residents more than any other racial or ethnic group.

Aurora police have used force against Black people more than their white or Hispanic counterparts in each of the past three full calendar years, according to data presented to an Aurora city council policy committee Thursday.

The data show that police in Aurora used pepper spray, dogs, Tasers and other injurious methods on Black people 75 more times than on whites in 2017, 148 more times in 2018 and 132 more times last year. The disparities are even wider between Black and Hispanic residents subject to force at the hands of police.

“A lot of it’s worse than I even suspected,” Councilperson Allison Hiltz said during the public meeting.

CLICK HERE FOR USE OF FORCE CHART CREATED BY AURORA POLICE

Statistics provided to the same committee earlier this summer showed that slightly less than half of all use of force incidents in the city last year involved a Black subject, though the city’s overall Black population hovers around 16%. Whites make up about 45% of Aurora’s population, and they were involved in about 35% of reported forceful encounters with police in 2019.

Of the 19 fatal encounters between Aurora police and residents since 2017, six Black people were killed, five Hispanic people and eight white people.

Preliminary data show Aurora police have generally used force less this year, with 402 total incidents reported year to date. That pales to the 832 total incidents last year, according to data compiled Aug. 25.

Compared to Denver, Aurora police reported about 100 more use of force incidents involving Black residents than police in the state’s capital city in each of the past two years.

Both Aurora and Denver have similarly sized Black populations, with each reporting between 62,000 and 65,000 Black residents last year, according to U.S. Census data.

But because Denver has nearly twice the overall population of Aurora, Black residents in Aurora account for a higher overall percentage of the population. About 9% of Denver’s population is Black. The Black population of Colorado Springs is about 6%.

Colorado Springs police reported more use of force incidents than both Aurora and Denver combined in both 2019 and 2017, data show. Aurora police explained that could, in part, be because police in the state’s second-largest city have a broader definition of “use of force,” including instances during which officers point or display a gun to someone.

In Aurora, instances of police pointing a gun at someone are tracked, but they’re classified as a “display of force” not a use of force, according to Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor. Such scenarios were not included in the data released Thursday.

Batchelor and representatives from the Aurora Police Department asserted that the local department has a particularly low threshold for what constitutes use of force, citing that escorting a subject by the arm constitutes a forceful encounter under department policy.

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, which reported significantly more use of force incidents than Aurora police in recent years, also constitutes pointing a gun at a resident as a use of force. The quantity of incidents involving local deputies declined in 2019 after the agency stopped including incidents of force reported at the local county jail in Centennial.

Overall, Arapahoe County deputies used force more on white residents than Black and Hispanic residents in each of the three reported years, according to the new data.

The new statistics are the upshot of multiple requests from Councilperson Angela Lawson, who has been asking for the nuanced force data for several months.

She said the statistics discussed Thursday are troubling, but encouraged Chief Vanessa Wilson to consider the data while pursuing continued reform efforts within the department.

“This is very concerning to me,” she said. “I’m hoping the chief will use this as a reference point to actually address this and to see how they can come up with solutions for use of force, implicit bias, and how we’re doing recruiting and hiring because I think it’s all tied together.”

Wilson did not address the panel during the teleconference meeting.

An analysis of police hiring figures released last month showed that white people applying to become local officers are almost four times more likely to be hired than their Black peers.

Lawson further lamented that Black was the only racial demographic to be subjected to every form of force police employ, from hobbles to baton strikes to mesh rounds fired out of converted shotguns. Black people in the city have been hobbled 51 more times than whites in the past three years, and 94 more times than Hispanic residents.

“Black is in each one of these categories, which tells me that there is a systemic issue going on with how officers are dealing with Black people in particular,” Lawson said.

The statistics confirm the age-old experiences of Black residents, said Omar Montgomery, president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branch.

“To me, it’s something that’s been going on for years,” he said.  “This is why you see the protests.”

Montgomery called for serious reforms in APD’s trainings and culture and more diversity in the city’s Civil Service Commission that has the final word on firing abusive cops. He also said mental health resources for police officers are as important as good benefits to keep good officers working Aurora streets.

The data come on the heels of several council members publicly locking horns with local police leaders in recent months, introducing ordinances that intended to bar officers from using certain equipment like pepper spray and certain techniques like executing a court order on a person’s home without knocking first.

Earlier this summer, police unveiled a slate of new internal policy changes intended to update the department’s use of force protocols and prepare for the passage of a new state law that further banned certain techniques.

One such maneuver was the carotid control hold, which has been used to subdue subjects by applying pressure to the arteries on the sides of their neck. Police in Aurora have not used the tactic on a white resident in recent years, but have applied it on Black residents 10 times and Hispanic residents twice since 2017, data show.

It was the same technique applied twice to Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old unarmed Black man who died after police detained him while walking home from a convenience store in August 2019.

Council members did not take any formal action regarding the use of force data Thursday.