Aurora lawmakers give first OK to police review task force

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The McClain family’s attorney, Mari Newman, speaks to the media during a press conference, Nov. 23, at the Aurora Municipal Center, after the APD released the body camera footage of Elijah McClain the previous evening. CIty officials are looking at a policy task force that could lead to independent review of such cases.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | A trio of Aurora city council members on Thursday granted tentative approval to a resolution that could lay the foundation for the development of an independent entity to oversee the Aurora Police Department. 

Members of the council’s Public Safety Committee unanimously signed off on a resolution calling for the formation of a “police community task force” intended to analyze and improve “police operations and community and police relations within the city,” according to a draft of the proposal.

The group is slated to comprise nine to 13 members who will meet regularly for one year with the goal of bettering communication between residents and cops. Members will likely hold public meetings in every council ward and provide regular updates to the city council regarding their progress. 

City management has been tasked with identifying potential members of the new coalition, which will ideally include representatives from the police department, local NAACP, both city school districts, legal groups, police unions, and other groups. Council members will have to sign off on the city manager’s selections.

While the task force will not serve as an entity to review contentious incidents involving the city’s police department, members will likely work toward forming a mechanism to provide independent review, according to Councilwoman Nicole Johnston. 

“I’d like to pursue some type of independent entity, but I’m hesitant to say exactly ‘board’ or ‘monitor’ or what that looks like,” Johnston said. “Because looking at other cities, I want Aurora to have something different.”

The proposed group is slated to be in place for one year, though council could propose to extend the task force’s mission past 2021.

Johnston first called for the formation of the task force in November after multiple police-involved shootings and one death in late summer and autumn spurred protests at city council meetings and in front of the city’s municipal building.

Aurora police say they have multiple mechanisms in place to investigate and review controversial incidents or alleged malfeasance, but critics have argued such tools lack teeth and transparency. 

In 2014, the city developed an Independent Review Board composed of eight cops and citizens to help the chief of police rectify misconduct and navigate “events that draw significant community interest,” according to a summary of the board’s functions. The groups reports to the chief of police. 

Johnston’s new task force will not specifically review any particular incidents, but instead propose policy.

“This is not going to look at any specific cases at all,” Johnston said. “ … If we go down a lane of like, ‘Hey, I want to talk about John Smith,’ that is off task. We are looking at the systems of this and not specific cases. Now, they may make recommendations on how we look at high-profile cases … but this is not case-specific at all.”

Johnston and the Aurora Chapter of the NAACP hosted a forum to gauge community support for the task force in December. The event drew about 60 attendees and prompted a conversation that largely focused on the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man who died after being detained by Aurora police in late August. 

The NAACP is hosting another public conversation on policing — this time with representatives from the department and both local district attorney’s offices expected to attend — at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Central Library. 

The resolution calling for the task force will now be forwarded to the full council for discussion at the Jan. 27 study session. Members of the new panel are slated to be selected by Feb. 24.