DON BLACK: Aurora must push against hiring another politician as police chief

1989

It is again time to select another smooth-talking, worthless politician of a police chief for Aurora, who has glowing credentials.

I am a retired lieutenant from APD so I can speak to this with experience. All of those fine officers I served with cannot. Each time the selection process gave us a new politically acceptable chief, we had hope. The police association and I said two things to the new chief. We told the chief that he needed to get rid of his unethical and incompetent upper command staff. If not, we told him that he needed to set the example and the “yes people” in the command staff would copy his example.

Each new chief ignored our suggestions. So, for 40 years we have been blessed with chiefs and command staffs who can’t fix much but who can make excuses for anything. There was a brief period in the 1980s when Chief Jerry Williams headed the department, and we enjoyed a reputation as a progressive department.

Williams was not a leader but he was an academic. He was, therefore, more open to ideas. You, the public, think that these politically adept chiefs are going to whip the officers into shape. The truth is far different. Political types are by definition weak. They don’t come down to briefings and reaffirm the right way to treat our citizens fairly and effectively. They can’t bluff the officers the way they bluff you. They created their spotless resumes by never arguing with their bosses to improve things.They concentrated on their careers and not on the job. So, when you pick these chiefs, you are getting the worst possible combination. You are getting someone who doesn’t know much about law enforcement and worse, doesn’t care. Luckily for the chiefs, they possess the one necessary talent. They can make you like them.

Positive change in the APD has always come from the bottom. In each unit, there are innovative, conscientious officers who have pushed for better ways to serve the public and to protect both the officers and the citizens. They pay a price for their perceived insubordination and insolence. They are punished for being too vocal. Their careers are trashed by the command staff.

The chiefs keep them from working any good assignments and look for opportunities to quietly discipline them. The Civil Service Commission is the only reason they are not fired. No matter. Their resumes look bad and they will never move up like the “yes person” who cares little about the public.

Long ago, I read an article that was titled, “Why nothing works.” The gist of the article was that American management only cares about one thing. That was, that you know that they are in charge. They will destroy the entire organization to prove that they are in charge. This was proven to me over and over. I saw that it did not matter how unethical, lazy, or incompetent some of my fellow supervisors were. But, anyone who questioned or was too persistent in pushing an idea, was identified as a threat. Those people were quashed.

APD, like most departments, is structured to give you minimal service. The chiefs only care about those things that make the news. A couple of times we were told to stop what we were doing because we were solving too many crimes. We were making too many criminal cases that the detectives had to file. No effort on the part of the chief to solve that problem. Complete lack of imagination and initiative.

The department needs to be restructured to handle both crime and communication with the citizens. We have seen the same tired approach forever. Aurora is still growing and there is an opportunity to grow in a more effective way. In the long range future, Aurora will need fewer officers if they restructure now. If they had restructured years ago, Aurora would be a far safer place.

I have only worked with a few racist officers and supervisors. As long as they did not make the news, their conduct was ignored by the chiefs. I caught one lieutenant trying to falsify information in minority officers’ files to cover himself in an ongoing investigation of discrimination by his sergeant. Nothing was noted in his file and his punishment was to promise not to test for captain for one year. After a year he did test, and he made captain and became my boss. The command staff liked him and ignored all of his past brutality and unlawful conduct. Unfortunately, there is not enough room here to list all of the horrendous misconduct that the chiefs have decided to overlook.

Unfortunately, city governments also want “yes people” who will not question or disagree. So, now when the vast majority of fine officers are being slurred, chiefs are not standing up for them. The same officers who have tried to change things are now being castigated by the public for the sins of the chief. The guy who won’t give the officers the training, equipment, and structure to do the job is the hero. It is crushing to morale.

Let me give you just one chief trick. For years the chief ignores pleas from his officers to address a problem. Finally, the bad thing the officers warned about happens. The chief then publicly states that he will form a committee to study the problem and the policies. The committee tells the chief just what the officers have been telling the chief for years. The chief announces that he will implement the committee’s recommendation. The chief is now hailed as being progressive and open to change. Unfortunately, neither the public nor the families of those who were killed or injured know who really caused the death or injury. A bad officer causes grief to some citizens. A bad chief causes untold needless suffering to the entire community.

I would ask that you, the community, help the city government look for the person who has tried to change things. That person won’t be a division chief from anywhere. His record will show that he disagreed and came up with ideas everywhere he served. There is a quote that says, “The rational man adapts himself to the world. The irrational man adapts the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the irrational man”. Please give the police department a real leader.

Don Black is a former Aurora police officer, who rose to rank of lieutenant before retiring.