Aurora lawmakers wrangle police raids, campaign reform, homeless, vicious dogs and more

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AURORA | After a raucous study session, Aurora lawmakers finalized a ban on no-knock warrants Monday night while advancing a dangerous animal ordinance, a campaign finance reform and oversight of military equipment procured by city departments. 

During the regular meeting, lawmakers gave final approval to Councilmember Angela Lawson’s proposal to ban police from executing so-called no-knock warrants. She has said the plan was inspired by the death of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky this year. Aurora police officials opposed the measure.

Councilmembers Dave Gruber, Marsha Berzins and Francoise Bergan opposed the measure.  The measure was opposed by Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who said the raids are rare, but precluding them could endanger the lives of law enforcement. 

A majority of city councilmembers also gave first approval to a campaign finance reform pushed by councilmembers Nicole Johnston and Juan Marcano, while killing a competing plan pushed by Mayor Mike Coffman. 

Johnston and Marcano’s plan was amended to allow individual and committee donors to dole out no more than $1,000 in at-large and mayor races, instead of the the previous $800 cap. Candidates for Aurora city council wards will be limited to accepting $400 from individuals and committees. 

Councilmembers Gruber, Berzins and Bergan opposed the measure and supported Coffman’s proposal, which he touted as a simpler alternative.

The city council also advanced a sweeping dangerous animal ordinance with opposition only from Councilmember Gruber. The plan would not change the city’s contentious breed-restricted ordinance outlawing American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers.

And lawmakers also gave a first approval to an oversight measure requiring city council approval before departments can acquire military surplus equipment through the so-called 1033 program. 

In response to a Sentinel information request fulfilled Monday, Aurora police said the department had only received 58 gunsights through the 1033 program since 2015.

Officials often tout the usefulness of the city’s mine-resistant vehicle during snowstorms. That vehicle was obtained through the 1033 program.

“The equipment, I think, is necessary,” Gruber said. 

Councilmembers Gruber, Berzins and Bergan opposed this measure as well.

During a heated study session, Aurora officials also introduced a slew of internal police reforms, while Mayor Mike Coffman said he intends to introduce a city-wide camping ban to disperse homeless encampments spreading throughout the city. 

Coffman’s plan would break with the city’s existing policy allowing encampments to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He floated the plan after council members including Johnston accused the mayor of revealing confidential discussions in executive session related to a forthcoming winter shelter and sanctioned campsite. 

Coffman denied revealing any confidential information. 

“It wasn’t in reference to anything discussed in executive session, and yes, I am working on a proposal on a camping ban,” Coffman said of his statements on social media. 

 The mayor has posted on Twitter and Facebook about the city’s new, winter shelter for homeless people. He disclosed its potential location — in northwest Aurora — while city officials and homeless service providers told the Sentinel any information released could collapse legal negotiations to lease a building.

Coffman said last week opening a winter shelter might allow the city to “be more aggressive about closing down these encampments once we have an alternative place for them to go.” 

Jessica Prosser, the city’s community development manager, told the Sentinel last week the city’s policy on encampments — which generally recommends to leave them be — hasn’t changed. 

Marcano chastised Coffman for breaking with city policy on encampments. He compared Coffman’s proposal to that of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who has overseen regular “sweeps” of homeless encampments prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“With regards to the sweeps, I do just appreciate you coming clean with that intent, because I do not think Hancock’s legacy is something that we really need to emulate here in Aurora,” Marcano told Coffman during the virtual meeting. 

Aurora police Chief Vanessa Wilson also unveiled a laundry list of reforms to restore community trust in a department long rocked by scandals and charges of brutality. 

Notably, Wilson said she’ll add civilian positions on the department’s force review board and chief’s review board, mandate training on cultural competency and implicit biases and shore up rank-and-file responses to volatile mental health crises on the street — when 911 calls aren’t handled by a new unit of clinicians schooled in de-escalation tactics. 

Plus, Wilson announced she is creating a regular panel of residents to share their experiences of being policed with new cop recruits; establishing a mentoring program to shore up diversity, while promoting at least one Black police officer; and requiring all cops to read “Difference Matters,” a book on diversity and identity theories written by Brenda J. Allen, a former communications professor in the University of Colorado system.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Wilson said of the reforms. 

Councilmembers including Bergan and Marcano approved of Wilson’s initiatives. 

Johnston said Wilson’s reforms will take place alongside recommendations from the civilian-led Community Police Task Force and new plans to curb youth violence. 

Councilmember Gruber and Bergan also raised concerns about rising crime rates and mass departures of cops within the system. 

Wilson said more than 70 officers have left the beleaguered department in 2020. 

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