No one thought it was going to be easy for Aurora to strategically and comprehensively reform its broken police department — except, perhaps, hundreds of Aurora police officers and a handful of local politicians.
Events last week made it clear that a quick or painless transformation — from the police department that the community has been saddled with for years, to the police department Aurora wants and needs — isn’t in the cards.
Wilson was appointed to the top post after a cauldron of Aurora police scandals boiled over at the end of 2019. Amid the tragic death of Elijah McClain and others, Aurora was sunk by a notorious debacle surrounding a cop passed out drunk in his squad car.
Since then, Wilson’s priority has been to sort out and reveal the department’s critical problems and fix them. In her spare time, she’s the police chief for the state’s third-largest city, beset with myriad issues that are not the result of policing.
Some of those issues include a dysfunctional city council, an imminent city council election and politicized police union.
Aurora has two cop unions that together claim about 500 members among the department’s approximately 750 law enforcers.
Of those who voted in the no-confidence poll last week, 442 gave Wilson a generic thumbs down. Only 16 said they have faith in her leadership right now.
Of course it’s worrisome news that a majority of those asked are unhappy with Wilson’s unapologetic insistence that cops who are drunks, bullies, bigots or incompetent boobs have no business boasting a badge in Aurora or anywhere else.
At the same time, Wilson has never showed anything but unfailing support for the profession of policing, for the Aurora police force and for those who don humility and humanity with their uniforms and badges and set out each shift to truly “serve and protect.”
She has never publicly said nor done anything to contradict her insistence that Aurora cops who honorably and professionally serve the public have no greater ally.
What Wilson hasn’t done is adopted the foolish canard dismissing Aurora’s international calamity of a police department as the overreaction to just a “few bad apples.”
That’s the message some existing and petitioning city lawmakers keep hammering, along with leaders and members of the Aurora police unions.
Lawmakers like Aurora City Councilperson Marsha Berzins have endlessly told police during public meetings that she “has their back.” Others have sworn undying support to Aurora’s police department, ignoring or dismissing undeniable problems.
Just one day before the results of the police no-confidence survey were released, a televised city council candidate forum, sponsored in part by Sentinel Colorado, revealed a handful of city council candidates insisting Aurora’s police conundrum could be solved with more police “support” and less consternation.
Berzins, the police unions and others confuse pandering to police with supporting them.
There is little doubt that police union officials chose now to play the no-confidence card with city council ballots just days away from hitting mailboxes across the city.
They’re betting that the off-key, far-right message of “police lives matter” candidates will appeal to the masses.
It’s a dangerous and foolish bet.
Aurora’s police department may suffer from only a relative handful of high-profile policing tragedies and disasters among thousands of police contacts each month. However, wrongly killed Black people, drunken cops kept on the force, Black children forced face down onto hot pavement, Black women left to die under the seats of police cars, a man wrongly shot and injured through a house window, patently racist cops forced back into duty, and much more, are just the highlighted problems besieging the Aurora Police Department.
That’s the unanimous conclusion of trusted experts across the country, across the state and right here in Aurora who have had a close look under the hood of APD.
- A months-long, independent investigation by a team of highly respected police, legal and medical experts was unequivocal in its assessment that Aurora police suffered from institutional problems, training problems and overarching problems with accountability and transparency.
- A state grand jury recently issued a bevy of indictments against the Aurora police and firefighter medics in the homicide of Elijah McClain. Systemic problems that led to the McClain death will be key evidence in forthcoming trials.
- After a lengthy investigation and analysis, the Colorado Attorney General’s office announced just last month that Aurora has systematically abused people of color and has long shown a pattern of abuse of citizens. Investigators there concluded that inept systems of accountability and transparency have exacerbated structural problems.
- State lawmakers, focusing hard on clear and undeniable problems in Aurora, have created a package of state laws, providing at least a path away from some pervasive issues affecting the lack of transparency and accountability in APD and elsewhere.
- A months-long, independent assessment coordinated with residents and local activists makes clear how the police mishandles, internalizes and uses a massive bureaucracy and powerless police administration to mask and perpetuate a wide range of police malfeasance.
Wilson and other city administrators have acknowledged the problems Aurora faces and have already begun the process of providing real, meaningful solutions.
Wilson has shown the temerity to fire cops who without question warrant dismissal. Her expectations mirror that of the community: Police must be held to a higher standard than the general public, and certainly higher than past standards at the Aurora Police Department.
The Aurora Police Department cannot effectively police the community until trust is restored, and there is no way to rebuild trust without change.
Wilson has shown the wisdom, courage and leadership to point out not only what’s wrong with the police department, but also what’s right. She’s worked hard for city lawmakers and the public to understand how dangerous and complicated police work can be.
But she’s made the commitment to accept and adopt change to make the Aurora Police Department a far better organization to serve and protect the public — and to work for.
Wilson has our solid confidence as police chief at this time, and she has earned yours as well.