Aurora police paid more than $200,000 in overtime to patrol GEO/ICE protests in September

Protesters and Aurora police at the Aurora GEO-ICE prison. SENTINEL COLORADO

AURORA | The Aurora Police Department paid more than $200,000 in overtime wages to officers who patrolled a pair of contentious protests in the city last month, according to calculations obtained by The Sentinel through an open records request. 

Dozens of Aurora cops received a total of $22,445 in overtime pay for working a protest organized by activist groups Abolish ICE Denver and Denver Communists in the city’s Tollgate Crossing neighborhood Sept. 19. 

During the demonstration, some 100 protestors gathered outside of the home of Johnny Choate, warden of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center privately owned and operated by the GEO Group Inc. in north Aurora. Three people were arrested on disorderly conduct and obstruction charges during the event. 

Two days later, several hundred protesters from opposing groups gathered in front of the Aurora detention facility on Oakland Street to both support and oppose national immigration policies and conditions inside the local facility. 

Police paid officers $187,818 in overtime wages to the more than 100 Aurora police personnel who patrolled the demonstrations Sept. 21. Police did not report any arrests during the event. 

Opposition demonstrators who attended the Sept. 21 protest marched several miles to the event from Denver. It’s unclear how much Denver Police paid in overtime to patrol the protestors as they made their way across municipal borders.

The overtime wages were doled out approximately two months after police paid $26,110 in overtime pay to officers who patrolled another protest in front of the local GEO facility July 12. At least one person was cited for criminal tampering during the protest, though investigators searched for other people suspected of crimes at the event throughout the summer. 

The total amount of overtime paid for all three events related to the Aurora GEO facility was $236,373.

The city paid a combined $8,913 in overtime to police officers who patrolled smaller protests in front of the local immigration detention center in 2017 and 2018, according to city documents.

The event that produced the second-highest total of police overtime wages in Aurora in recent years was Global Fest in 2017, when officers earned $19,571 in overtime, according to city data.

Patrolling prisoners while they recuperate from injuries sustained prior to or during an arrest has still been the costliest reason for overtime in recent years, according to Aurora police data. The city paid a total of $270,205 in overtime to police who guarded prisoners from 2017 to July of this year.

The overtime funds incurred at the recent GEO demonstrations will mean Aurora police will likely surpass their annual spending authority, according to Deputy City manager Jason Batchelor. City council will likely be asked to approve the extra costs out of the city’s general fund next year.

If approved, the money will come out city savings accounts reserved for emergency, one-time uses such as natural disasters. The city used approximately $1 million of such funds following the Aurora theater shooting in July 2012, Batchelor said.

Batchelor said the police presence at the Sept. 21 protest was arranged based on the large crowds anticipated to attend. Aurora police released a lengthy warning message with several recommended protocols in the days leading up to the demonstration.

“We were really concerned about making sure we — given what we were hearing on both sides about the numbers they were expecting and based on previous experience — had enough folks there to keep the environment safe,” Batchelor said. “There were some concerns from some of the community that has showed up to council meetings … that we were cooperating with ICE, and that’s not the case. Our goals in that situation were establishing an environment where we could provide safety and an environment where both sides could exercise their First Amendment rights.” 

Aurora City Councilman Dave Gruber, who sits on the city’s public safety policy committee and was publicly critical of protestors’ actions at the July 12 event, called the recent overtime costs “unfortunate.”

“If a library book is $10, that’s 20,000 library books we’re not buying, it’s three police cruisers we’re not buying,” he said. “The things we cannot do because of the total spent on overtime is really a shame.”

Still, Gruber defended the police department’s decision to staff the September events with so many officers.

“Going back to the July 12 protest, what the police department learned is they need to have a bigger presence there and that is what’s driving a lot of these costs,” he said. “The direct action groups are there with an agenda. They have proven they are there to create disturbances and do things that could affect public safety. The police have to be able to respond to that, and that has driven up the cost a lot.” 

Matthew Wozniak, spokesman for Abolish ICE Denver, called on police to curb heavy-handed responses to protests.

“Extravagant militarized police displays of force are expensive — they should stop that,” Wozniak said. “ICE is putting human beings in cages, and it’s disgraceful that people are focusing on the cost of hiring cops to harass us as we demand they stop.”