EDITORIAL: Stop protecting Aurora police from themselves — the city must protect the public first

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Then Canine Officer Matt Green watches as fellow officers subdue Elijah McClain in 2019. FROM A SCREEN GRAB FROM APD POLICE BODY CAM VIDEO

The state-required intervention into Aurora’s deeply troubled police department desperately needs an intervention.

In just the past few days, an Aurora officer was charged with punching a disabled woman in the face while he was off-duty in his apartment complex. A notorious Aurora cop who was protected from being fired after passing out drunk in his police car was promoted. And just days ago, the Sentinel learned that the equally notorious cop who quit the force after police body cam revealed his threats to Elijah McClain to have his police canine “dog bite” him, has been re-hired by APD.

That’s just the past few days.

Just over a year ago, after months of investigation, the Colorado Attorney General issued a scathing report, detailing how for years Aurora police have abused people of color they encounter, including each other. The attorney general determined there were systemic “patterns and practices” that not only permitted racist and abusive schemes and episodes, the department hid and covered them up, by design.

In the past year, the city has bungled an opportunity to reform the department and rebuild trust for a devastated community that — justifiably — fears for their lives when they encounter an Aurora police officer.

The city fired former police chief Vanessa Wilson, who pressed hard to enact reforms and rebuild the department.

The city then hired former chief Dan Oates, who made absurd and grossly perilous decisions in his brief tenure as interim chief to dismantle what little oversight exists in the department. He refused to discipline a high-level police commander, who with another police officer, were both tripped up in a criminal investigation after violating a restraining order — twice.

Oates fired and rehired a new officer who violated his promotion after being arrested for a drunken brawl in another state.

And the Sentinel reported last week it was Oates who approved the re-hiring of the cop who threatened McClain during sick and racist abuse of his position.

The accusation has been that APD is a club that protects its own — for those cops in favor of superiors — regardless of what’s right or wrong. Oates’ behavior only proved it to be true.

State Sen. Rhonda Fields expresses what most Aurora residents feel, and especially those people of color.

“The lack of judgment is just overwhelming, and it’s fatiguing,” she said of APD. “It’s more than a lack of judgment, it’s a culture that seems to be plaguing the APD and they’re rewarding by getting promoted or rehired. …We have to do something.”

Aurora Police now has its third chief in less than a year. Interim Chief Art Acevedo took the reins of the department in December, and has spent most of his time explaining how the department is filled with professional, compassionate and talented officers, and trying to explain how the department continues to make witless mistakes.

He’s so far blamed a system that is under mandate to change.

Acevedo told television reporters at FOX31 that the officer who told McClain his canine would “dog bite” him if he didn’t quit resisting the dog-pile of officers already on top of him that it was at one time approved police procedure to threaten subjects with dog bites.

You only have to watch how the officer handled the situation to see this was anything but standard police procedure, in places outside of Aurora.

Aurora needs to cease justifying horrific police behavior and decisions, and stop making these dangerous gaffes.

Acevedo deserves a chance to make good on promises to clean up this mess and at the same time ensure honest, competent officers are lauded for their good work — protected from the grisly behavior of what the public can only hope is a few.

“While actions of officers who violate their oath must be acknowledged and appropriately dealt with, it’s important to acknowledge the remaining majority who serve each and every day with honor,” Acevedo said in a tweet, responding to criticism by local lawmakers. “The decisions made by their leaders and rules set by others shouldn’t reflect on them.”

At the same time, the public shouldn’t have to depend on favorable odds every time they encounter an Aurora police officer. Successful police reform is not a crap shoot.

Acevedo and the city should immediately, transparently review every decision and change made by Oates and report what they find to the community.

Successful police reform, protecting the public and restoring trust won’t come from justifications. Acevedo must aggressively and transparently rectify the recent problems and controversies and set out a plan change, not rationalization.

 

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George
George
16 days ago

For those that loved Oates and didn’t look into his past actions when he served as the permanent chief, I have a message for you. You were just too stupid to know you were stupid for not doing your due diligence. You got exactly what you deserved. And that includes all of you- politicians and community activists, left and right. Enjoy the fruits of his misdeeds.

Virtute non verbis
Virtute non verbis
16 days ago

APD is so broken. Myriad chiefs can’t fix it. The dysfunctional mayor and council can’t fix it, and even the pseudo-messianic Phil Weiser can’t fix it. Aurora deserves so much better.

George
George
16 days ago

While Chiefs can’t fix it, they certainly can encourage and/or enhance it by their actions or inactions. How about setting up for failure phony incident review boards that Chiefs can overrule without any justification. Oh yeah, ask Oates about that. And the BS Sentinel not looking into it. And instead talk about decisions made based on bad info.

Or how about the city attorney’s office prosecuting cases against cops that they knew full well were weak because Chiefs protected bad cops that had exemplary performance ratings. And then the dumbass sentinel never looking into that.
it’s all coming home to roost. Enjoy!

Don Black
Don Black
16 days ago

Little inklings of the truth start to filter through all the lies and half truths that control the narrative. The Sentinel is starting to acknowledge that leadership has been a problem for APD. Police publications have been trumpeting the lack of ethical police leadership for at least two decades. Unlike the Sentinel, the officers knew that the leadership was a problem. Most officers simply ignore the bosses and are satisfied if they ask about their families. The officers just try to do their jobs and stay out of the politics. Some, like myself, tried to speak up when the bosses were unethical, dishonest, and incompetent. We knew that Dan Oates was a politician who wanted total control. He was not unlike most of his predecessors. Oates tried to destroy Civil Service so he would have total control. That total control meant that he would be able to get rid of anyone who spoke against his unethical actions within the department. He could continue his favoritism without hindrance. Vanessa Wilson was just another politician who cared more about her career than honesty or ethical conduct. Her incompetence and her hysterics within the department were hidden by her false display of caring for the public. Before the city buildings were attacked, I sent an email to the city council telling them that they should ask Chief Wilson what her plan was to protect the businesses and the city buildings from the attacks that were going to come. The City apparently did nothing to ascertain her plans. She obviously had no plan and showed no leadership in first dispersing a mostly peaceful group at the Municipal building and then allowing the city buildings to be attacked by a predictably violent group. Her lack of leadership opened Aurora to multiple lawsuits. Amazing how the complete lack of leadership is simply ignored.

Within the Department, we constantly mouthed the same phrase. “If the public only knew” was our common refrain. We were kept from telling the public about the type of leadership and their indifference to crime. I was told a number of times by my bosses that they really didn’t care about the public.

Aurora now faces a dilemma. They have committed to a path that accepts half truths and lies as its basis. The Attorney General ignored a factual examination of each of the incidents that he used to justify his consent decree. For someone who represents the law and justice, to ignore facts and the truth is to me, unforgivable. But he got his consent decree and a boost to his public image. He helped fortify the goal of the legislature to create proportional stops and arrest of minorities. Nevermind that that goal ignores the realities. The studies and simple observation should have told him that that goal was not possible if the officers were doing their jobs. The leading cause of death for young black males is other young black males. Police killings pale in comparison and are usually justified. The mass juvenile attacks and the mass looting are almost entirely a black problem. We choose to ignore that to fit the popular narrative.

So, now we pursue a false goal and spend a lot of money doing so. Now the leadership question comes in again. An ethical leader would look at the consent decree and the police reform bill and speak up about the dilemma. But that isn’t going to happen. Law enforcement has been saddled with the same sad politicians for a long time. They just have to kiss babies and tell you what you want to hear. They don’t have to actually make sure that their officers are ethically trained and led. They don’t have to show their officers that they are competent and willing to lead out front in a morally responsible way. The sad part is that the Sentinel wants this same weak, dishonest type of leadership. The Sentinel has it upside down. This ignorance about the truth is killing law enforcement.

Good Citizen
Good Citizen
16 days ago
Reply to  Don Black

The “sad” death of welfare recipients. Let me get out my tiny violin and hanky.

Don Black
Don Black
15 days ago
Reply to  Good Citizen

Simplify all of your responses by just saying you hate all police.

Good Citizen
Good Citizen
15 days ago
Reply to  Don Black

That would not simplify, it would be incorrect. Your definition of ” hate” appears to be a common one used by police when they are outed for being tax thieves and welfare recipients. The same term is used by many in American society when they are called on almost any abhorrent behavior, including many of the people that commit other crimes. They are “hated” because they are black or perhaps, because they are poor. A simplified response is that you have always been a welfare recipient and a tax thief, and you don’t like your employers messing with your very comfortable rice bowl.

Phil
Phil
16 days ago

Good points but calls to reason and accountability fall on deaf ears in APD and our Repugnican fake-conservative council…

It’s disgusting but probably unfixable. The entrenched good ol boys will sabotage any and all reform and have proven it over and over. Looking at you, oates.

Ricardo
Ricardo
16 days ago
Reply to  Phil

I think it’s quite fixable. Citizens really out did themselves voting for a conservative legislature the last go, especially considering these people ran on education reform and the fear of children getting the short end of the stick. The fix is simple: vote them out. All of them.

iamsomebody
iamsomebody
16 days ago

Perhaps if APD didn’t look at us all as criminals first and people second…..but I digress. Why is it up to the public to ‘laud’ officers who do their job? We gamble with our lives being pulled over for a traffic violation but we’re expected to be so grateful we got a ‘good’ one who didn’t beat us up or kill us.

Concerned citizen
Concerned citizen
16 days ago

They need to be brought on RICO charges. I’m bet, if properly investigated, they would find that all criteria would be met. And not just APD….

Don Black
Don Black
15 days ago

Sounds like a really objective and fact based idea. (sarcasm)

Peace not police
Peace not police
14 days ago

You know how you solve all these problems? Eliminate the police department. Get rid of it and every single person we waste money on to fill it. And all of the city officials who defend it. They should be summarily fired for defending criminals! How about a Peace Department? Or put that money into propping up our communities of color. If the rich white people want to surround their homes with private security, armed guards and razor wire, fine, let them at THEIR expense. But they can stop sending their racist henchmen after the rest of us at OUR expense. I’m glad we have some people on the council who seem to understand how THAT is the will of the people. We need more of them.

George
George
12 days ago

Interesting perspective. I would bet the first time you call the “peace department” to get their help with anything, you would be begging for the restoration of the “police department”. Quite thought less and ignorant on your part. It shows a total lack of understanding of what a police department does. I absolutely want bad cops gone forever. But your suggestion is just plain dumb!!