EDITORIAL: Chief Acevedo signals potential way out of the Aurora police quagmire

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Art Acevedo was sworn in as interim police chief Dec. 5, 2022. He’s the second temporary leader at the department’s helm since former chief Vanessa Wilson was fired in April. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Aurora residents and the entire region would welcome straight talk about the chaos continuing to swirl around and through the Aurora Police Department.

The city’s newest interim police chief has promised just that.

Interim Police Chief Art Acevedo — formerly chief of Miami, Houston and Austin — is now a few weeks into the job and has consistently told city leaders, community leaders, the media, and practically anyone who will listen, that his tenure as top cop will be heralded by transparency and candid honesty.

It’s a welcome and needed change from the last several months. All of Aurora should insist everyone involved in Aurora’s police debacle adopt the same touchstones.

Aurora’s police crisis has been years, if not decades, in the making. While the city has long boasted a strong and innovative department, APD has become secretive, insular and rife with repeated incidents of racism, abuse of force by too many officers — and cover-ups.

Those officers who were as appalled by APD’s repeated and flagrant mistreatment of people of color, as was the rest of the world, were either silent or silenced as problems became systemic.

Aurora, and the nation, should never forget nor brush aside the crimes, cruelty and blunders that have been made public over the past several years. The department has been sullied by a cop who pistol-whipped a young man questioned about vagrancy. The world recoiled from a story about Aurora police forcing Black women and young girls to lie face down on hot pavement while they were erroneously stopped and handcuffed during a botched stolen-car inquiry. Residents across the nation were baffled when the city’s Civil Service Commission forced the re-hiring of a fired officer who referred to Black crime witnesses as “porch monkeys.”

And both the nation and the world were outraged by the death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora police and firefighters. The community was repulsed by Aurora officers mocking the cruel death with “comic” selfies that backfired after being made public.

The police department’s mission, to serve and protect, became lost in a cavalcade of malevolence, malfeasance and malpractice.

It was welcome news that after investigation by the Colorado attorney general, the office would intervene and demand momentous reforms throughout the department.

It was a shocking surprise earlier this year that the woman who successfully marshaled the reticent department toward authentic reform and newfound credibility was suddenly sacked by city managers. Clearly, former Police Chief Vanessa Wilson was removed amid a toxic political drama on the Aurora City Council.

Wilson, and the unequivocal reforms she championed, were loathed by police union leaders and a small cadre of newly elected city lawmakers who pander to police anti-reform hardliners. Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky publicly slandered Wilson regularly, once calling her “trash” on a far-right radio talk show program.

She was replaced with former Aurora police chief Dan Oates, who despite promises to stand away from the reform mandate in his temporary role, surreptitiously upended one police oversight panel and diminished another. Neither Oates nor the city revealed those changes to the public.

City leaders were silent about Oates reversing the discipline of police division chief Cassidee Carlson for her role with another police veteran twice violating a restraining order as part of an Aurora cop’s messy divorce.

Not only did Oates reverse the conclusion and decision by the Aurora Police Internal Affairs Unit against Carlson, he then almost immediately promoted her. If not for reporting by The Sentinel and Channel 4 News, the public would never have been made aware of the scheme. 

Just a few weeks ago, Oates was lauded by city leaders for his six-month tenure, and the scandal has now been handed to Acevedo.

Critical problems fused into the Aurora Police Department, exacerbated by some members of the Aurora City Council, cannot be forgotten or ignored.

The new chief has been consistent about his requiring accountability and transparency in the department, and the public should demand it.

So far, Acevedo has been direct and unflinching about Aurora’s serious internal police dilemmas and the crime problems Aurora, and the entire state, face right now. 

Acevedo has rightfully insisted that the vast majority of the department’s nearly 700 police officers and officials are honest, compassionate and diligent professionals, who can and should be trusted.

In meeting with The Sentinel and other media, Acevedo has been just as candid and insistent that the department has considerable deficiencies, which can be successfully addressed.

In his brash foray into the metro-media spotlight, Acevedo has signaled a positive and independent course for the department. 

He told local media officials that he doesn’t wait for “permission” to act, he asks for “forgiveness” of those uneasy with it, after the fact.

If Acevedo can deliver the independence, transparency and accountability he’s promising, the city’s police can reclaim a reputation residents need them to have.

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Berv
Berv
1 month ago

The problem is that even if this guy wants to actually fix the problems plaguing APD, he’s going to make enemies. Big, powerful enemies that can block his efforts and pressure the City Manager to fire him, too.

The Chief, whether it’s Wilson or Oats or Acevedo or anyone else, can only be a part of the solution if they have the authority and support of Council and City Management – any Chief will need to be able to piss off Mark Sears and the FPA and the other corrupt cops (and any cop protecting a corrupt cop is now a corrupt cop – the old saying is “a bad apple SPOILS THE BUNCH”, and people forget that when they talk about bad apples), and as long as Council and City Management are playing nice with those officers and organizations that are resisting reforms and changes, the Chief can’t be effective.

There was a critical turning point in the history of APD when Jim Twombly caved to illegal pressure from Danielle Jurinsky and Dustin Zvonek and Mike Coffman to fire Wilson – not because Wilson was the only person who could make change, but because Twombly caving into the pressure set a precedent for anyone who followed Wilson. Now every Chief after KNOWS that if they piss off Mark Sears or another corrupt cop, that cop is getting free drinks at JJ’s bar and he’s going to talk to Danielle Jurinsky – and then Danielle’s going to throw a big tantrum, and she’s going to threaten Jim Twombly, and Jim Twombly is going to cave to that pressure again. So as long as Jurinsky has that power (which she wasn’t even censured for illegally and unethically using before), and as long as Twombly is afraid of her, the Chief is never going to have the power to make any significant change – they just have to spend their days talking out of both sides of their mouths to please corrupt cops and corrupt officials.

Doug
Doug
1 month ago

I’m waiting for the fallout from this one. (I’m sure there’s one CM already hyperventilating)

Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
1 month ago

If Acevedo swiftly and directly addresses escalating theft and gang violence seeping farther into the outer wards of the city, he can have all the transparency and kumbaya moments in the spotlight he wants.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago

Amen

Bob
Bob
1 month ago

The Sentinel talks about the chaos in APD. No- it’s chaos in Aurora. Aurora has drifted into a new no man’s land. Far away from any civil city atmosphere, an  Aurora what it once it was. You want murder, you want car- jacking, armed robbery- you got it. This is not APD chaos, it does however turn over to the hands of  APD, and their problem to deal with. The city has to be willing to  crack down on the offenders. The political will-power to do this, is not a shared vision.  Some of the current council,   the Marcano’s, the Murillo’s would rather manufacture  up some phony racism pitch  against CM Sundberg than  focus on real city issues, that’s where the political malpractice festers. That’s where the root problem the new chief , will soon come to realize. He will figure it out , and also become disillusioned.      

Don Black
Don Black
1 month ago

I find it humorous that the Sentinel would praise transparency and honest talk while advancing the same distortions that they continue to trumpet. First, let us understand that most of the incidents that are used to justify APD racism are distorted. The incident where the officer pistol whipped the suspect was not just one where he was dealing with a vagrant. He was dealing with three suspects who were wanted on felony warrants. The one who got pistol whipped was wanted on a warrant that involved strangulation of his girlfriend. The suspect resisted from the start and grabbed for the officer’s gun before he was hit.

Elijah McClain was not killed by the police. The police did not just pick out some random black guy to kill. They were responding to a citizen’s call of a suspicious person. Best guess is that the injection of Ketamine may have killed him. The early reviews of the incident were correct before the politics got involved.

The stopping of the black family and the putting them down on the street was within policy for what they thought was a stolen vehicle. It was poor judgment and a lack of training that we can lay directly at the feet of people like former Chief Wilson.

The consent decree and the prosecution of the officers in the Elijah McClain case are political theater by the Attorney General. They are not looking for truth or improvement. They are looking to further their political careers with the popular narrative. Any rational person who gets involved with open and transparent conversation will see that they cannot debate their ideas. The whole basis for the police reform bill and the consent decree is that we must make everything proportional by race. Thomas Sowell, a black researcher, has done extensive work on the subject. He calls all of this the “invincible fallacy”. We are afraid to address the painful truth. Black individuals are statistically more involved in crime. We cannot fight crime and make the statistics proportionate. The police know this. So, while you scream and dance, they know that they cannot be effective if we pursue those ridiculous goals. Race has no place in policing. Race goals have no place in an honest society. You either commit the crime or you don’t. If you are innocent and stopped, you should comply with the police.

The police are directly involved in crime. They understand the realities involved. You can use your TV and media judgment but you will be way off base. There is no middle ground. Sure there have been racist officers. The people who do not deal with them are the smiling politician chiefs that the politicians pick for their chameleon abilities to seem sensitive, honest, and the ability to to tell you what you want to hear. The police know that they will likely continue to be led by another smooth talking chief who will not address the real issues. They knew Chief Wilson for what she was, not the image she gave you.

Chief Oates and the rest like him are used to talking a good game while they foster a system of favoritism and dishonesty within the department. I remember when our association president caught him in a lie. He simply acknowledged that he had been caught and went right on. They are men used to having complete power and a closed system where the public can’t find out how they run things. They are not people who will tell you the truth. The statement by Chief Acevedo about it being easier to apologize kind of gives you some insight.

Right now, it is poison for any police politician to tell you the truth. The truth doesn’t fit the popular narrative that you have all been fed. So, the City will continue to spend a fortune following an impossible consent decree and we will continue seeking impossible goals.

You should understand that chiefs don’t have ideas that are innovative. The ideas come for the bottom and the people who care and do the job. Most of the officers care about the job and believe in their role of protecting. I find it humorous that Chief Acevedo would agree with Council Person Marcano that the police are simply reactive. That flies against the whole concept of community policing. However, that is where we are now. The police reform bill has destroyed most of the concept of proactive policing that underlies community policing.

I went before Council and suggested a debate about policing by people who aspire to the job and people who are knowledgeable. That won’t happen. Your politicians hide behind stereotypes and general statements. They make decisions on opinions with little fact. They, like the chiefs, cannot actually have a conversation with people who know the job. They are counting on the fact that you know little and will lose interest quickly. They realize that they don’t have to do anything effective, they only have to appear to be doing something.

Meanwhile, the officers try to do the job regardless of the tremendous handicaps that you have thrown in their way by supporting ridiculous laws like the police reform bill. When the police legal advisors tell the officers that they don’t know what the law means, we have a problem. In addition, you continually give the officers politician chiefs who simply build their own images.

It will probably be a long time before the police can actually address crime problems in your neighborhoods. With the vague and dangerous guidelines that the police reform bill has given, the police will be mostly reactive. You may as well park them in the fire stations and let them wait for a call. We surely don’t want them out there where they might stop someone suspicious or someone committing traffic violations. A person of color might not cooperate and something bad might happen. Better to let everything go to pot (no pun) than to actually have to use force. Law enforcement includes the necessary use of force. It is up to the politician chiefs to make sure that they are properly trained. The politician chief knows only how to advance his/her career. They don’t know proper training.

The cops can’t tell you these things. If the Association or FOP does tell you these things, you will simply label them racist or corrupt cops resisting change. I remember telling a captain that we weren’t resistant to change, we were resistant to stupidity. We all knew that our bosses were just currying favor and were part of a sick system of management that has plagued APD for a long time. You can’t fix that by giving the department more of the same smiling political types. If they were really honest, they would tell you that their officers receive about half of the training they should. They would tell you that the police reform bill is badly flawed and the consent decree was costly overkill.

So, understand that the police don’t have a choice. They can’t simply agree with your flawed perception. Morality and ethics keep them from agreeing with the popular narrative. You think they are being corrupt while they know they are being honest. No middle ground.

GeneD
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Black

Don, I admit that your usual bloviating verbosity had me skim a few lines of your tirade, but I did catch a few points. When has there ever been ‘community policing?’ Maybe when cops walked a beat, but how long ago was that? Did all those officers involved in the deaths or injury of BIPOC or other individuals not get trained in the proper use of force? How broad is the definition of ‘failure to comply’ before the sticks or Tasers come out?

All your arguments seem to come down to ‘things were pretty good until outsiders got involved.’ And, ‘leave it to the cops and their reps to set things right.’ Neither of them holds up to scrutiny. APD needs change, and effective change always comes from outside the system.

HSto
HSto
1 month ago
Reply to  GeneD

You have no idea what you are talking about. Don Black is absolutely correct in his assessment. APD is not and never has been a racist department. That idea was built by the media and “community activists.” No cop wants to work around a racist or rogue cop. They are an extreme liability and cannot be tolerated. Would you want to go on calls with a racist who might do something stupid? No officer does. Does this mean that officers use the best judgment all the time? Absolutely not. Training along with experience is what builds judgment. Proper supervision guides both training and experience. Some of what has plagued the department is extremely poor decision making at upper levels. The rank and file supported the chief’s decision to fire the lieutenant who used a racist term at a call, but civil service overruled the chief and gave him his job back with a demotion to sergeant. The chief declined to fire another officer who was found DUI on duty, in uniform, and in a department vehicle. The rank and file disagreed with the chief’s decision not to terminate that officer. I could go on with other examples, but I will just say that too often, poor judgment rests at the top. Proper, ethical leadership is the key to rebuilding both department morale and public trust. Officers who engage in serious misconduct should be punished/terminated and there should be Proper allowance for officers making a mistake. Department culture is set and controlled by the chief.

You clearly don’t understand the concept of community policing if you think it is limited to foot patrols. Don Black started one of the department’s key community policing efforts. The PAR officer program, and he had to jam it down the throats of police command staff by going around them to city council. He paid a personal price for doing the right thing.

Don Black is not “bloviating” and I would love to hear your background that allows for making such a claim. My guess is that you have zero experience and that “bloviating” is your talent.

GeneD
1 month ago
Reply to  HSto

From Merriam-Webster: Bloviate: to speak or write verbosely and windily
Any person with any kind of background can identify a windbag.

I didn’t say that ‘community policing’ was limited to cops on a beat, although that was its genesis, but cops need to get further integrated in to their communities to change the image so many have of them being bullies with badges.

I admire your loyalty to Don. I imagine you served with him in the good old days when there were none of the current problems in the APD?

Scattershot editorial
Scattershot editorial
1 month ago

How is city management and council terrible if they got rid of a personally and professionally disastrous Chief Wilson, brought in Oates for a quick stint because he ran the department for years prior, and then brought in a nationally revered law enforcement expert to be interim and maybe a permanent chief? This editorial, Dave, is more scattershot in its approach than the people you criticize. It’s just another increasingly desperate attempt of yours to shore up Chief Wilson whose career flamed out in spectacular, avoidable fashion. Be somewhere in the middle like the vast majority of the community you claim to serve fairly. But this rag of a publication is clearly incapable of that.

HSto
HSto
1 month ago

You are correct on Wilson. Those attempting to defend her have zero idea of her actual competence. Time will tell on this new guy, everyone should hope he succeeds.

Michael L Moore
Michael L Moore
1 month ago

I was in Houston when Acevedo was chief. He’s a change agent! Departments and cities may not enjoy his approach, but I found his brand of leadership refreshing as a citizen. I’m pretty sure he upended some long-held processes and responses. He was outspoken about military-style weapons and he seemed to be very transparent to the point that he made some in the city uncomfortable. Discomfort is a necessary part of the change process, and Aurora PD needs to change and confront resistance to change.

Johnny On It
Johnny On It
30 days ago

Who would want to work in Aurora policing with haters like Coombs and Marcano on the city council?