EDITORIAL: Aurora cop reform can’t wait for closure on Elijah McClain death, or inability to fathom need for change

Windows remain covered in plywood after nearly a year at the city hall building in the Aurora Municipal Complex.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Plywood over the windows of Aurora’s city hall is a suitable metaphor for the city’s unresolved anguish over police reform and the death of Elijah McClain.

It’s time to un-shutter both the windows at city hall and attitudes toward police and police reform across the community.

Honesty and action are needed now.

The Aurora region does not need further investigations to be confident about what happened to McClain in August of 2019 and after that. It is indisputable that Aurora police bungled an encounter with McClain, wrongly escalating the incident based on a host of biases and gaffes. Both police and medics made a cavalcade of mistakes that ultimately caused McClain’s death.

The only thing McClain was guilty of was being one of millions of Black Americans who fear any encounter with police.

The police department then botched the investigation of his death.

For generations, police have evolved into a too-secretive, imperious and faux-military organization, here in Aurora and across the country. Aurora police have been exposed for what they have become when police rolled up on McClain that night, and in the years past.

It matters greatly that those responsible for McClain’s death and the ruined investigation afterward are brought to justice, but that justice will never reconcile his death and the mistreatment of others who have suffered by police biases and ineptitude.

Three things are apparent:

• Aurora cannot dismiss the ghastly mistakes that police have made.

• Not every officer or medic is guilty of abusing people of color, and many are in fact, people of color.

• The Aurora Police department must be reformed, not scrapped, because any other option will lead only to chaos, injury and death.

It’s unclear whether state prosecutors will overturn previous, tainted criminal investigations into police involvement in McClain’s death. Regardless of whether state attorney general officials pursue criminal action against officers, medics and possibly the department, Aurora must pursue rigorous reforms. Now.

City officials must set aside frivolous ideas of disbanding the police department or turning all police into unarmed mediators. We live in a society that too often worships and wields guns, indulges in drugs and is quick to inflict all kinds of violence on one another. Interceding into our violent lives is dangerous, complicated work.

But reforms that recognize the wide range of societal problems and how many calls for help not only don’t require an armed response but are actually escalated by mis-responding to problems is a real concern. It’s one that’s fixable.

Just as frivolous is the perpetual myth that police actually reduce and prevent crime. Police respond to crimes and problems after they occur. Aurora leaders who say they want to empower police to prevent crimes simply don’t understand it. Good jobs, attentive parenting, affordable housing, social and racial equity, solid education and community involvement actually prevent crimes and mitigate them.

Police make arrests and enable the court system to prosecute those who violate the law.

It doesn’t mean that police departments can’t help resolve all kinds of problems that mitigate or reduce criminal incidents. It means that police departments must become diverse in how they respond to problems and who it is that responds.

Separate from all of this are immutable requirements the city must impose now on police:

• Aurora police must be subject to truly independent oversight. • The police department must act transparently, and all internal actions and investigations must be available for public inspection.

• The public must work to build and rebuild trust in the police department with community guidance, oversight and accountability.

It’s time for the shuttered windows to open up at city hall, literally and figuratively. Leaders who don’t fathom or embrace the critical need for reform must stand aside or be set aside by voters. And it’s time, now, for all of Aurora to work with police to ensure the safety and protection of everyone.

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Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
2 months ago

Mike Coffman a terrible leader and will never bring these matters to the Aurora City Council so it considers the police reforms that have been recommended by the task force.

2 months ago

Well Debra, consider that Mike Coffman is a very good leader and brings only important items to City Council and is an advocate for law and order. The Police Task force has only brought conflict and more lawlessness to our City during the past year.

Don Black
Don Black
2 months ago

Unfortunately, again, the editor does not understand much of what he is talking about. The crime you see now is the result of the fact that the police can no longer do their jobs. So, I guess they do prevent crime. All of those stops they used to make for minor violations resulted in finding crimes in progress and people wanted on warrants. Enforcement of minor crimes kept a semblance of order and made criminals know they might be stopped and their concealed weapon found. Transparency for the police department and officers is a good idea. Actually, if the citizens could see how indifferent and incompetent much of police leadership is it would help improve things. Having uninformed citizens like the author make decisions on punishment will completely prevent officers from doing their jobs. The police have no one to speak for them and to explain why things happen. Chiefs are political animals who look out for their careers. They sometimes make minor statements about their officers feelings so it will look like they support their officers. The retired police chief who authored the scathing report on theElijah McClain death made gross exaggerations and one serious outright lie in his report. Naturally, the citizens will never hear that. When you give the citizens the politically correct version and then reality contradicts that, it gives the citizens the idea that there is a coverup. For instance, there can be no prosecution of the officers involved because the facts do not warrant it. So, we will have more rioting because no one has the courage to stand up and tell an unpopular truth. That is not to say that the Feds won’t decide to be politically correct and charge the officers. Today, anything is possible. That is part of why the officers are afraid to do their jobs in an uncertain environment. Would you want to deal with resisting people knowing that you will be arbitrarily judged by the hysterical and idealistic mob or the social justice warriors that have moved into positions of power. Police work involves facts and trying to get to the truth. When you won’t be judged the same way, it doesn’t give you faith in the system. The citizens haven’t been told that the Police Reform Bill was poorly written and leaves officers with real doubt about what they can do. You can’t enforce the laws if you don’t understand the laws. Working police officers all know the problem now in Colorado. The public and the activists want to just ignore the realities. There cannot be any real community policing under the present circumstances. “See something, say something” doesn’t apply when the police know they have no backing if they stop someone. You will have the meet and greet hand shaking meetings with the Chief and a few officers. That is just a show if no action will ever result. It is what you all fall for. There is no common ground right now. I don’t foresee any soon. The distortions and unwillingness to address reality will simply keep the police from being effective. The damage is severe. The media certainly is not looking for an honest conversation. Black crime is an uncomfortable truth no one wants to touch. Police stops and arrests have to be disproportionate if the police are doing their jobs. Painful reality. The crusaders for equity have to constantly downplay that fact. The author has said that putting people in jail doesn’t reduce crime. He is wrong there too. You will all learn that as our legislature continues to find ways not to punish or hold people accountable. Unless enough people have the courage to stand up and deal honestly with the challenges. We are in for a hard road. It will be you, the public, who suffer from the failure to be honest. People of color will suffer the most. Many more will die from the random shootings in their community. By the way, you should understand that gang members will tell you that it is your fault if you get shot accidentally when they are shooting. It is your fault because you got in their way. I wish us all good luck.

Mitch Olsen
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Black

you are a bigot

30 days ago
Reply to  Mitch Olsen

Plain and simple!! Just like the majority. If you don’t see this for the travesty it is YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM!

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
2 months ago

Well said!

The problem boils down to one thing: Society. Totally out of control. But the police are expected to rise above it and we hold them to a higher standard. When they don the uniform, they are supposed to “serve and protect.”