AURORA’S NEXT TOP COP: Residents outline qualities desired in next police chief

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AURORA | Be ready for growth. Hold accountability paramount. Be more than just a shiny resume.

Those are just a few of stipulations Aurora residents outlined for the city’s next chief of police at a community forum Tuesday night.

Some 50 people, including activists, city personnel, and at least one former police lieutenant, spent nearly two hours explaining to a recruiter what qualities they want to see in former Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz’s successor.

“I want someone that doesn’t really approach this from a crime-ridden … point of view,” said Hashim Coates, a community activist and former member of the city’s Human Relations Commission. “Law and order is not what Aurora needs. We need someone who understands the full diversity of Aurora and its complexities.”

The discussions at the Aurora Municipal Center were underpinned by months of tumult among Aurora police brass.

Deputy Chief Paul O’Keefe was slated to replace Metz as interim chief after Metz announced his plans to retire in September. But in late December, city leaders tabbed longtime department veteran Vanessa Wilson to lead Aurora police on an interim basis after O’Keefe withdrew his name from the running on Christmas Eve. Wilson has indicated she plans to apply for the full-time position.

O’Keefe had faced weeks of blowback after a CBS4 report revealed he was the first to respond to a cruiser driven by a drunk and passed out Aurora police agent in March. The officer, Nate Meier, was never charged with DUI and remains on the force.

Aurora City Manger Jim Twombly, left, watches as Aurora Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson addresses reporters at a press conference at Aurora City Hall Dec. 30, 2019. PHOTO BY GRANT STRINGER, Sentinel Colorado

Multiple police-involved shootings in October and the in-custody death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain in August — and a decision from district attorneys not to prosecute the case — spurred additional criticism against police command staff.

That there have been nine murders in the city in the past six weeks, several of which involved teenagers, has continued to sow anxiety, forum attendees said.

“Will this police chief go after the hard crime; not just have all the officers chasing around, giving out little tickets and stuff?” said Aurora resident Dan Phalen, whose son, 20-year-old David “Jax” Page, was shot and killed by El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputies after a standoff in Monument in September. ” … Go after the gangs because if anybody has been to Colorado Springs, that stuff’s moving up here, north, and it’s a big gang problem.”

Aurora police have not confirmed whether any of the recent murders in the city were prompted by gang disputes, though social media posts indicate at least one of the murder suspects had gang ties.

As the city gauges public input on qualities of the next chief, Aurora City Councilwoman Nicole Johnston is moving forward with creating a task force that could craft an independent entity to review contentious police incidents in the city. Johnston is expected to introduce a resolution memorializing the task force at a council committee meeting on Thursday. A public meeting to discuss the forthcoming group is scheduled to take place Friday evening at the Central Library.

Johnston did not attend the forum Jan. 14 due to a family illness, she said.

Council members Allison Hiltz, Alison Coombs and Juan Marcano attended the event, as well as a pair of Democratic candidates for district attorney in the 18th Judicial District.

Retired Aurora Police Lieutenant Don Black implored recruiters to stay away from candidates seeking to elevate their careers by lily padding from agency to agency.

“No one has figured out yet how not to pick that politician,” Black, an Aurora cop of 32 years, told recruiters. “And what you’ve given us and what your systems have given us, since I’ve been around, and that’s been since 1978 in Aurora, are basically car salesman.”

Earlier this month, the city tabbed Roseville, California-based Bob Murray & Associates to lead what could be a six-month search and recruitment process for the city’s next top cop. The same firm was tasked with hiring Metz and his predecessor, Dan Oates, Senior Vice President Regan Williams confirmed.

City Manager Jim Twombly is expected to select the next chief in late May or early June. A majority of city council will need to sign off on Twombly’s selection.