Aurora lawmakers have the right idea in providing better police pay as a way to shore up and reform the beleaguered Aurora Police Department, but council members struck out Monday on how to execute a much-needed plan.
With virtually no discussion, research or analysis, Aurora lawmakers Monday night agreed mostly along party lines to give police officers $8,000 each in “retention” bonuses, spending about $6 million in federal pass-through funds made available for cities as part of the congressional pandemic relief funds.
The Sentinel stands behind efforts to permanently raise police pay and benefits in an effort to recruit and retain the best police force possible, composed of the best police officers available.
In exchange for that, however, city taxpayers have every reason to expect superior police officers to perform to a far higher bar than other civil servants, and to be able to demonstrate and prove their expertise, abilities and willingness to serve in a reformed Aurora Police Department.
That hasn’t happened — yet.
City police leaders, management and even city council members really have no idea why so many officers have left the Aurora Police Department. They don’t know who they were or whether their departure bodes ill or for good for the department and the city.
What everyone does know is that the Aurora Police Department has suffered a bevy of ghastly, humiliating and dangerous disasters in the past few years, including the wrongful death of Elijah McClain and others. Aurora has been saddled with drunken cops passed out in squad cars, videotaped cops abusing people of color, recorded racist rants, including a repulsive citizen-provided video of white officers forcing young, crying black girls face down on a hot parking lot during a bogus stolen-car call.
Three police department officers were caught creating and passing along a depraved re-enactment of the horrific death of Elijah McClain, cementing APD’s lurid notoriety.
There has been no solid research into why, since all of these disasters have occurred and been made public, that police officers in Aurora have left the force over the past two years at an unprecedented rate.
It could be that officers now understanding that the public and the state are done with these repulsive acts and willing to root out other bad cops from the force had the insight to get out while their getting out was possible on their own accord.
It could be that quality officers, sickened by what their colleagues had done and the reputation it’s imposed on APD fear for their careers and have left for departments not seen flailing from one mess to another.
It could be just better money someplace else, or serving in a community with fewer challenges than those in Aurora.
It could be none of that.
Aurora police union officials have provided their own insights on departures, but their “research” and comments about this and other matters have been laden with politics, clearly created to make a change on the city council to lawmakers who offer unyielding support to the police unions.
That happened during the Nov. 2 election. A block of city council candidates pandering for police support got it, and three of them were elected.
With no research into the propriety, effectiveness or impact of these very large bonuses, the move, created only by a letter from newly elected Councilman Dustin Zvonek, and signed primarily by Republicans on the dais, looks like quid pro quo at its worst.
Shady governing like this not only undermines the public trust in the police department, something the department desperately needs, but it also undermines the credibility of Zvonek and members of city council who are attracted to conducting the city’s business by tweets and letters, outside of public meetings, staff review and public input.
Standard city procedure is to draft a bill, publicly discuss it in an informal session, allowing for questions and input. Measures like this are then sent to the city council floor for full debate and public comment, sometimes creating even a second floor vote. That didn’t happen here.
The measure may make good sense, but the public can’t conclude that from how these bonuses were rushed through outside of the normally transparent and accountable protocols created in Aurora for the sole purpose of thwarting actions like this.
Aurora city council members should immediately ask city staffers and other outside experts to examine what they’ve just done, and whether it will make for a more safe or less safe city.