AURORA | In an effort to retain police officers in the city of Aurora, city lawmakers, along party lines, voted Monday night to give $8,000 bonuses to each uniformed officer in 2022.
The bonuses will be staggered in two $4,000 payments. The stipend will not come with any kind of requirement to remain with the department afterward.
Total cost of the program is about $6 million, according to city projections. Given the rate of distribution, that amount could allow for about 750 retention bonuses.
“If people only stick around for the next eight months and allow us to continue to build back our police force, it will at least ensure that can slow the bleeding,” said Council member Dustin Zvonek. “It will ensure that we can start to build back up our specialty units. We can’t have a gang unit that is three times fewer officers than are actually needed to protect our city. We can’t have residents continuing to have two hour response times because there are not enough police officers out on the streets.”
A total of 87 police personnel left or were jettisoned from the department in 2020 — more departures than in 2015 and 2016 combined — bumping the organization’s turnover rate to nearly 20% for the year.
As of October, 108 officers had left the department resulting in a net loss of 25 positions, according to the city. 53 were resignations, 39 were retirements and five were terminations.
Aurora police averaged a turnover rate just north of 6.5% in the six years prior to 2020, according to departmental data reported by The Sentinel in February.
Members opposed to the payments, funded through federal pandemic funds, argued that bonuses should be offered to other city workers as well.
“What happens when they start exiting?” Council member Ruben Medina asked of firefighters. “And then what’s going to happen when you don’t have to be saving your life there?”
Supportive council members said retaining police officers are a more pressing issue in the city.
Council members Medina, Marcano, Crystal Murillo and Alison Coombs voted the measure down.
The council members decided to delay two other public safety-related measures: one that would allocate $3 million in federal pandemic funds to help businesses make safety improvements. $500,000 would go specifically to businesses along the Colfax corridor.
Another proposal put on hold until early next year is one that uses private funds to hire a police recruiter dedicated to diversifying the department.
Mayor Mike Coffman pushed the vote back to further flesh out the proposal, which would likely fund a full-time recruiter with a $75,000 salary. Scholarships for test prep may also be available to recruits.
The Aurora Police Department, in coordination with National Bank Holdings and other local faith based organizations are behind the plan, which was put forward even before the city entered into a consent decree with the Colorado Attorney General’s office earlier this year, according to police chief Vanessa Wilson.
That agreement highlights increasing the number of minority police officers and firefighters on the respective forces.
An analysis conducted by the city’s civil service commission in 2020 found that in recent years only 1.1% of Black applicants who met the minimum qualifications to be hired onto the city’s police force were admitted to the academy, compared to 4.24% of white applicants, 3% of Hispanic applicants and 3.6% of Asian applicants who make it through the lengthy vetting process.