APD interim Chief Oates: Police will focus on stability, prevention and equity


AURORA | Aurora’s new interim police chief Dan Oates told an audience Thursday that he is committed to outreach as well as focused-policing in high-crime neighborhoods, as the city continues to grapple with what he called the “traumatic” departure of ex-chief Vanessa Wilson.

“It’s been through a lot of turmoil, as you might imagine,” Oates said of the Aurora Police Department, which he previously led from 2005 to 2014. “The departure of a chief under the circumstances under which my predecessor left is traumatic for an agency, as you might imagine, just as it’s been traumatic for the city.”

“My job is to use all of my skills and experience to sort of stabilize the environment within the police department,” he said.

Wilson was fired by City Manager Jim Twombly in early April, a decision which she alleges was politically-motivated and fueled by resentment from conservative politicians and union leaders who opposed her approach to police reform. Twombly has said the decision was made in response to unspecified failures of management by Wilson. Oates was selected to serve as interim chief later that month and began his second stint as chief in June.

One of Aurora’s state senate representatives, Rhonda Fields, led a question-and-answer session with Oates on Thursday evening, along with her daughter, Maisha. The event was held at the Dayton Street Opportunity Center in north Aurora, which was established in honor of Rhonda’s son and Maisha’s sibling, Javad, who was shot to death in 2005 along with his fiancee after agreeing to testify in a murder trial.

Rhonda and Maisha Fields both praised Oates for his compassion and commitment to justice as the department investigated Javad’s murder, which happened just a few miles from the center.

“When Chief Oates came on board, he said, ‘I promise you, I’m going to make sure your family has justice.’ … He said, ‘I won’t rest until we solve this case,’” Maisha Fields said. “I trust Chief Oates, and I trust him in this process and when he says that he’s going to give each and every one of us access to the department.”

“He was not only the chief of the police department in the City of Aurora, but he’s also a personal friend. And the reason I can tell you he’s my friend (is) because he cares. He cares about people, and you cannot do police work if you don’t care about the people,” said Rhonda Fields.

When pressed by attendees about his plans to tackle increases in certain crimes, a topic that he has been hesitant to address since being selected as interim chief, Oates reiterated his commitment to proactive policing as well as more community engagement.

According to information reported by the department as part of the FBI’s ​​National Incident-Based Reporting System, between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, Aurora experienced a 29.9% increase in violent crimes, including murders, sexual assaults, aggravated assaults and robberies.

Police responded to 13 murders between January, February and March 2022, compared to six murders during the same time period in 2021. The number has since climbed to 20 murders so far this year, Oates said.

Motor vehicle thefts also jumped by 32.1% between the first quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, from 1,457 reported incidents to 1,924, according to NIBRS data.

Acen Phillips, a local pastor, asked Oates how he would engage community members to help clear cases and stem violence.

“Right now, the number one issue in Aurora and around the nation is folk killing folk,” he said. “How are you going to get us engaged? Because if we don’t get engaged, there’s no way you can do anything, because you only come after we call you, after the crime has been committed.”

Oates again expressed interest in creating a proactive policing unit modeled after New York City’s Neighborhood Safety Teams — a proposal by Mayor Eric Adams that has garnered criticism in that state for its resemblance to previous plainclothes units, which developed a reputation for violence and racial profiling in the urban communities they were meant to serve.

Oates emphasized that officers selected to serve in the Aurora unit would receive special training on topics such as de-escalation and lawful search and seizure, and said community members would be invited to share concerns with officers.

“I am also aware that we’ve had challenges in this community around trying to do proactive policing. And we are being — rightfully so — we are being very carefully watched to make sure we do that in an ethical and constitutional way,” he said.

He said a unit similar to the Neighborhood Safety Teams and Aurora’s defunct Direct Action Response Teams could be established “in the next three to four weeks.”

He also blamed a lack of resources for the decline in the number of officers placed in Aurora schools, which he described as an opportunity for outreach, along with events like Thursday’s forum. Oates promised to continue to “deliver the cops to have those conversations” at future community events.

When Rhonda Fields asked how Oates would reach out to communities that did not trust police because of past incidents of excessive force, the chief said he anticipated it would take “months and perhaps years of hard work.”

“A lot of damage has been done to the reputation of the department because of our own failings in recent years,” he said.

He mentioned how the department’s consent decree mandates the collection of more information about contacts with citizens, including demographic data.

“We’ll have that information, and we’ll be able to make some assessment of policing based on that,” Oates said.

Oates also said the department was writing fewer tickets than in past years, which indicated to him that fewer traffic stops, and thus fewer questionable stops, were taking place, though he questioned whether enforcement needed to be stepped up to address a rise in traffic deaths.

Rhonda Fields asked Oates specifically about the challenges of balancing crime-fighting with the perception of overpolicing in communities of color.

“It’s not all about how we can help solve crime, because I think everyone wants to live in a safe neighborhood, and I know if I see somebody doing something wrong, I’m going to tell,” Rhonda Fields said. “But there’s some people that don’t want to get involved in that kind of activity because they’re concerned about some kind of retribution.”

The chief told Fields that he was committed to sending officers into high-crime areas. He said that, in addition to arrests, police would focus on securing convictions for crimes and interrogating prisoners to better understand criminal networks.

“It’s a lot of hard work, and it requires good patrol policing and good detective work,” he said.

When asked what he would do to address staffing problems and turnover within the agency — the department employed 712 sworn officers in May, including 27 officers in training, out of a total billeted staff of 744, and lost a total 126 officers in 2021 — the chief said he was still analyzing the problem.

“I don’t yet have a handle on the issues around recruitment and why people have left the agency other than that the agency has been in turmoil,” he said. “That’s why I’ve said that my top priority is to somehow stabilize the organization and make officers feel good about the organization again.”

“The question is a very big question, and I don’t have any easy answers to it. The best that I can do is be myself and lead the organization as best I can, and make people feel good about it, and choose not to leave. I think I’m off to a good start in that regard.”

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Don Black
Don Black
9 months ago

He is a very smooth politician.

9 months ago
Reply to  Don Black

What did you expect

john wilson
john wilson
9 months ago

I hope Oates can watch his six. He has the most untrustworthy and deceitful chiefs office and PIO for any department in there maneuvering to be part of the new chief selection process so they can get another bad one they can manipulate. These sub-Chiefs and Commanders are a sorry lot of sycophants and have caused most of these problems for the APD. Some have been demoted and promoted so many times its like a revolving door….

Last edited 9 months ago by john wilson