AURORA | Aurora City Council members are mulling a recent proposal from Councilperson Crystal Murillo that seeks to extend a new effort increasing police foot patrols along the East Colfax corridor.
During recent budget negotiations, Murillo asked her fellow lawmakers to pull $75,000 from city funds to pay for two officers to stroll the city’s northern commercial strip and engage with business owners and individuals experiencing homelessness.
“Really, we’re rebuilding trust,” Murillo said of the program. “Foot patrol is a community policing model, and it is a proactive way to deter crime and build relations with communities.”
Murillo’s request would extend a current iteration of the program that began earlier this month. For some three weeks, a pair of officers have been handing out pamphlets and other resource materials along Colfax between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays.
The new effort was born from community conversations and launched as a means to assuage fears of rising crime in the area and mend community trust that has been repeatedly battered following a series of recent departmental scandals, police leaders said earlier this month.
“We’re trying to work with our businesses to make them feel safer as well as have some positive interactions with people that may be fearful of the police,” Chief Vanessa Wilson said at a recent public meeting. “Just rebuilding trust on a day-to-day basis through face-to-face conversations.”
In the first two weeks, the officers assigned to walk the area roughly between Havana Street and the Denver border contacted 80 businesses, issued six criminal warnings, made 20 non-criminal contacts and conducted a handful of investigatory interviews, according to Division Chief Stephen Redfearn. The officers are expected to be making their rounds on foot unless the weather is poor.
Redfearn said that while officers arrested one person who was contacted and discovered to have outstanding warrants, the intent of the patrols is not to put more residents into handcuffs.
“The emphasis is not on arrests and charging people, although obviously if we encounter people that have to be arrested, we’ll do it,” he said. “The real focus has been on contacting businesses.”
Murillo said that when it comes to policing in an area of the city where many already fear police “intent and execution matters.”
“I respect the awakening we’ve had around the role of police in our community and I’ve supported programs like Cahoots. In lieu of police responding to some 911 calls, we send medical staff instead,” she said. “This is an extension of that conversation…over-policing is in our nation’s conscience, we need solutions so that people feel comfortable in the moment and feel safe right now.”
During the recent budget workshop, Murillo also asked that the city contribute money for safety kits for Asian Americans and overtime pay for police so that they can partner with the Asian Pacific Development Center.
“These are not competing issues,” Murillo said. “We can demand oversight and transparency and help groups feel safe and navigate the existing system we have.”
Police officials have surveyed some 30 businesses along East Colfax in an effort to further understand what aspects of safety and policing could be improved, Redfearn said. Authorities plan to do another survey this summer, and a final query of local proprietors when the program runs out of funding this fall.
Currently, the city has budgeted some $50,000 through September to cover the overtime funds paid to the various officers who operate the patrols, according to Michael Bryant, spokesperson for the city. The four-hour shifts are available as overtime pay to personnel with the low and mid-level ranks of officer, agent and sergeant.
But Murillo wants to extend the program with another $75,000 round of overtime funds “for consistency,” she said. “I didn’t want to see this pilot started and need more time to evaluate the effectiveness.”
Crime in the north Aurora region surged last year, mirroring crime trends seen across the metroplex. Murder, sexual assault, aggravated assault and robbery were up nearly 29% in the department’s northern district one — which includes East Colfax — between 2019 and 2020, data show. Shootings that resulted in injuries were up 116% in the zone, and there were nearly 900 more property crimes reported in the area year over year. Overall arrests were down by a third.