AURORA | A record number of Aurora police officers have left the department so far this year, surpassing the number of departures in all of 2020 and further straining an increasingly lean agency, according to data presented to Aurora city council members this week.
A total of 96 officers have parted ways with the Aurora Police Department so far in 2021, with another two staffers expected to split by week’s end, Deputy Chief Darin Parker told members of the council’s public safety policy committee Sept. 16.
“That’s very disturbing,” Councilperson Dave Gruber, said during the meeting, highlighting that about a third of the department’s staffers have turned over in the past three years.
The news comes on the heels of a review released Wednesday by the Colorado Attorney General, implicating the police department as having long mistreated people officers contact, especially people of color.
The number of exits among APD ranks through the middle of September already dwarfs totals from last year, when 87 officials left Aurora police — a 61% increase over 2019.
Resignations are the driving force behind the exodus, with 47 voluntary departures from the agency as of the end of August, according to police data. That’s higher than the total number of separations from the department in both 2015 and 2014, when 33 and 32 officers left APD, respectively.
At least 40 officers have retired from the agency this year — including several for medical reasons — and five officers have been fired, according to police records. One officer died while employed, and another transferred to another position within the city but outside of the department.
Aurora police currently have 744 sworn members, though only about 630 of those officers are fully trained and able to work, Parker said. About 70 personnel are still in training and cannot work by themselves, and other 40 or so are on some form of inhibited duty due to illness, injury, involvement with a contentious incident or military leave.
The department has added 75 officers through academies so far this year, including three lateral officers from other agencies, data show.
Police Chief Vanessa Wilson acknowledged there has been a dip in the number of officers her agency has been able to lure from other departments, possibly because of the near-constant tumult that has surrounded the city.
“For 21 months we have been in the spotlight — some for our own doing and I’m not trying to defend any of the individuals that I’ve held accountable or terminated — but it has been a very rough go to wear the Aurora police patch,” she said. “ … As far as laterals are concerned , I’m not sure, (with) the reputation and the scrutiny and the things that we’ve been going through, if their family and friends would want them to come and have to go through that.”
Aurora police have been a magnet for criticism in recent years, with increasingly amplified claims of unfair hiring, racially biased policing and heavy-handed arrest tactics.
This month, a state grand jury indicted the trio of Aurora police officers who detained Elijah McClain in August 2019, and on Wednesday, Attorney General Phil Weiser ordered the city to enter into a consent decree with the state that would require the Department of Law to oversee the Aurora police for years to come.
Police departures are not exclusive to Aurora, though the city has reported a higher rate of exits compared to other Colorado law enforcement entities, The Denver Post reported earlier this year.
Officials across the state have pointed to bellwether police reform legislation passed last year as a driving force behind the increases in attrition, according to a survey of police chiefs and sheriff’s released earlier this year. The multi-faceted bill requires departments to report more data to the state, outfit all officers with body-worn cameras and strips protections that have long shielded cops from lawsuits related to their daily duties.
“Even before the summer of 2020 and the passage of Senate Bill 20-217, applications for law enforcement positions were at an all-time low,” the report compiled by law enforcement trade groups and a statewide union reads. “Qualified applicants are looking for jobs in other career paths, and great officers are leaving the profession for other careers. This is a troubling trend because a diverse workforce that represents the best and brightest in our communities is an important part of meaningful change.”
About three quarters of Colorado law enforcement agencies said they’re currently experiencing shortages, and about half said they lost more officers in the second half of 2020 than they did over the same time period in 2019.
Attrition figures within Aurora Fire Rescue, which was also condemned in Weiser’s recent report regarding the department’s use of ketamine, are on track to be below average this year, according to current trend lines. A total of 13 staffers had left the department as of Sept. 1, compared to 23 total exits in 2020 and 30 departures in 2019, according to city data.
“Right now the city is under significant stress,” Gruber said. “Our residents, our citizens are looking to us to solve the issues that have been brought forward by the 21CP report and the attorney general’s report. Our goal, again, is to have the finest police department and the finest fire rescue in the nation, and we will continue on with that goal.”