EDITORIAL: APD temporary chief must also focus on critical police reform, traffic deaths

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Aurora Police body cam screen grabs that investigators say show Aurora Police Officer John Haubert pistol whipping and strangling a trespassing suspect July 23, 2021. Haubert and another officer face felony charges in the incident. Both officers were terminated, in part because of a new state police reform law.

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.

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Don Black
Don Black
2 months ago

The author continues to make the same leaps with generalizations and statements that would not stand up if each were examined fairly. Always emotional generalizations. I love the same statement that the police don’t prevent crime. I guess we are seeing conditions now that bring that into question. We lost thousands of good officers nationwide thanks to the rhetoric put forward by the media and politicians. The police reform bill in Colorado put officers in an untenable, vague position. Even the interim chief acknowledged that he had been told about the problem by the officers. As a retired officer, I think about all the crimes I prevented and stopped in progress. I think about the missing young boy who was being molested when I knocked on the door of the kidnapper. I am certain that child would have been murdered if I had not gone door to door looking for him. It is going to take years to recover, if we do. The people who have created this problem are naive about the problems and the solutions. It is sort of like the whole root cause idea that has been thrown out about the border problem. Police leadership has been derelict for a long time. It hasn’t improved with the supposed reforms. The basic ideas behind much of the police reform bill and the consent decree are badly flawed but politically acceptable. Luckily for the liberal element who espouse these things, their opposition has no platform to debate them. Police chiefs are not standing up to challenge the issues that should be addressed. It is hard to get quality officers when they know they have no backing and no one who will even question the flawed positions being advanced by the media and the politicians. The noble ambitions advanced by the activists are now bumping into reality. I guess that it is fortunate that the public really doesn’t understand how any of it works and how things could work.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Black

And right on cue comes Don with his angry agenda. I have to admit, though that it is interesting to see where his mind goes, as he refuses to move on.

FactsOverFeelings
FactsOverFeelings
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

He was police officer in (I assume) the 1920’s! His opinion is totally relevant and the only one that could possibly matter!

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

Have we really already forgotten about the thefts and the shootings? You know, the things they blamed on Chief Wilson.

cammy1938
1 month ago

i cant remember last time i saw a traffic policeman/woman on the streets of aurora. that’s probably why there are so may wild drivers

Don Black
Don Black
1 month ago
Reply to  cammy1938

If we go with the idea that police don’t prevent any crimes, then there is no reason for them to be out on the street. They can simply wait like firemen at the station. All of the officers that I have spoken with have told me that they no longer do anything except respond to calls. This is a result of the police reform bill. Basically, the media, the legislature, and the radical element have made it clear that they do not want officers to stop people for minor things. Sometimes, people decide to run or fight and therefore these stops should not be made. So, they have essentially made those minor crimes and traffic offenses legal. If we don’t like the lack of enforcement then we must get our legislature to address the police reform bill. I am one of the only people trying to inform the public about the problem. I guess that I should simply let the public remain uninformed.

Good Citizen
Good Citizen
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Black

Follow the money folks. Don has been on the public dole for years and wants his buddies to remain there. When looking at a city budget, ask for verifiable proof that police “prevent crimes” Don will pull out an anecdotal story. “If I hadn’t done x then y would have happened” He has absolutely no facts or figures to back up the scam he and his buddies have been perpetuating for years. How convenient that claims of crime prevention don’t have to be backed up with the same scrutiny given to actual crimes committed. He can’t do this because it can’t be done. Notice how he mentions firemen, who perform a standardized, verifiable service to the public. We can justify taxpayers funds going to a wide variety of city services because what they do can and should be quantified. (X number of potholes were filled by city crews last year) Look at what you have paid Don and others in a lifetime of lying about their effect not only on crime, but their theft of you tax dollars.

DICK MOORE
1 month ago
Reply to  Good Citizen

For all you current, past and retired APD members, let me be the first to apologize for Good Citizen’s absolutely stupid thoughts of your service to our community. You did not spend a lifetime of lying and did not steal our tax dollars to raise your families.

Never allow yourselves to believe that for even one second. Good Citizen you have proven one more time that your head must be attached to your body but somewhere where no one can see it. Spare us your childish thoughts.

Good Citizen
Good Citizen
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Dick:
Licking boots is a bad hobby. Give it up. Phony conservatives often love men in uniform, but they can’t and won’t provide any actual data that refute anything I said above. Real conservatives, those interested in the waste of public tax dollars, want real life and real time information in reference to what they get for their money. Like many on both sides of the political spectrum, you rely on your feelings (which apparently are often hurt) when making decisions about where my money is spent. You appear to have had a lifetime on your knees and that also must hurt.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago

no confidence in reaching back for a policeman to run things from an earlier time when no one did anything about systemic racism, homophobia, gender discrimination and police brutality…get some real house-cleaning done, new recruitment standards and better training and independent oversight

DICK MOORE
1 month ago

Debra, are you Good Citizen’s mother?