City officials putting out the word that there’s a new sheriff in town — although he is actually the old police chief — are remiss in pointing out that Aurora’s old, critical problems in the police department have not magically gone away.
This week, former Aurora police chief Dan Oates became interim Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates as the city begins a nationwide search for a permanent police department leader.
Aurora had one of those — slogging through seemingly endless astounding controversies involving malfeasance, malevolence and corruption — until the city manager fired her in April.
The killing, maiming and abuse of Black people, drunken passed-out cops in squad cars, rehired racists and pistol-whipping episodes eventually drew a state investigation and resulted in a consent decree between Aurora, its police and fire departments and the Colorado attorney general’s office.
The decree mandates that a third-party expert monitor Aurora’s well-documented problems that reach all the way back to Oates’ first tenure as police chief.
For decades, the Aurora Police Department has been a cloaked, insular, virtually autonomous agency that’s been primarily led by overpowering police union and civil service commission pressures.
Oates himself gleaned national exposure about the problem after penning an essay about two years ago for the Washington Post, insisting that police chiefs must have the power and courage to fire errant cops to ensure police departments remain credible and viable institutions.
Now-former police chief Vanessa Wilson not only talked the talk. She acted on all that, firing and upholding the dismissal of police officers who clearly committed fireable offenses.
Those unapologetic firings endeared Wilson to the community, making it clear she took police reform and accountability seriously, and they made her a prime target for the wrath of police union leaders.
City Manager Jim Twombly, who solely has the power to fire the police chief, said union angst was not why he sacked Wilson, citing her allegedly poor management skills instead.
In a recent Sentinel Colorado interview with Oates, as he steps into his new, temporary role as police chief, he listed things he’ll likely focus on until a new chief is selected.
Foremost, he told The Sentinel last week, he wants to bring stability to the police department, a department that, like hundreds of others, has seen a steady flow of exists since about the time the George Floyd murder controversy erupted.
Oates also talked about the spike in car thefts, other property crimes and the notable surge in violence.
These are problems not just in Aurora, but all over the metro area, and even all across the nation.
His tentatively mentioning directed police units and analyzing responses are best practices that make sense.
But missing from his short list of priorities is assuring the community that Wilson’s focus on police reform and leading changes imposed by the consent decree, rather than just accommodating them, will continue, at least until another chief is selected.
Also missing from Oates’ list of must-dos is addressing the surge in traffic crashes, injuries and deaths.
There were more than 600 traffic deaths in Colorado last year, and 2022 could surpass that, according to indicators. Traffic crashes have risen at an astonishing rate over the past two years, about 15% just since one year ago, according to state traffic officials.
It takes no analysis at all to understand that Aurora and the entire metro area is flooded with extremely dangerous, rogue drivers who weave and speed through traffic at all hours and under all circumstances.
National traffic safety experts say the rogue racer phenomenon is a national one.
While history and research make clear that police can do little to prevent violent and even property crime, other than respond to it after it happens, police and traffic authorities actually can move the needle against traffic criminals and scofflaws in a variety of ways: cameras, patrols and special operations.
Oates’ arrival and interest among city council members underscores something lost on too many lawmakers: police have little impact on preventing crime. Their primary job is to address crimes professionally, safely, fairly and legally.
Since there have been a serious and infamous lapse in those priorities and abilities among some police and police leaders in the past, all of Aurora anxiously awaits how Oates will handle that crisis until the next chief is appointed.