EDITORIAL: Weeks after Aurora’s police fiasco, it’s clear Chief Wilson’s firing was a political hit job

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Former Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson at Aurora City Hall April 11, 2022 before making her first public comments about her ouster since she was fired April 6. PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Weeks after Aurora officials ousted former Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, and months into a pervasive problem with backlogged police reports, the public still can’t get straight answers about the controversy.

Police reform and law enforcement issues are critical in Aurora, and this controversy is too important to just look the other way.

It’s hard to pin down when the problem of a ballyhooed backlog of police reports waiting for “transcription” began, but the recent police leadership debacle is easy to peg.

For the past decade or more, the reputation of Aurora police has become that of an insular, secretive and abusive department. Years of uncovered, horrendous crimes, racism and malfeasance, culminated in a court-monitored consent decree, where the state attorney general identified patterns and practices of racism, abuse, cover-ups and malfeasance.

The findings are horrific, not just because of what was documented, but because it wrongly shrouded the entire police department in a cloud of mistrust and corruption. Aurora Police has long had a proud and well-deserved reputation for its progressive, community-based department, serving one of the most diverse large cities in the country.

City Manager Jim Twombly elevated Wilson as chief just as the department drew endless ridicule and suspicion onto itself by one mistake after another. Despite that, and despite the ruined APD reputation especially among Black residents, Wilson was able to restore public credibility to the department with her candid, honest admissions of police malfeasance and demands for transparency, accountability and professionalism. 

Some police members, mostly union officials, pushed back against high-profile firings and condemnation of police actions when they clearly warranted condemnation.  A car full of Black girls and women forced face-down onto hot pavement, a drunken officer passed out in his squad car, officers mocking the infamous death of Elijah McClain and an officer pistol-whipping a man were just the most infamous APD exploits Wilson lambasted.

In 2021, three Republican city council members — Dustin Zvonek, Danielle Jurinsky and Steve Sundberg — campaigned against Wilson’s honesty, swearing allegiance to Aurora’s police unions, winning their support and seats on the city council. All have made repeated, disparaging comments about police accountability, but Jurinsky went so far on talk-radio as to demand Wilson’s ouster, calling her “trash.”

Since the new city council was seated, these lawmakers and police union officials have routinely made it clear they wanted Wilson out.

In a ham-handed series of gaffes, Twombly fired Wilson April 6, citing only a vague allegation that Wilson was unable to lead.

Along the way, the question of a backlog of police report transcriptions became a key point in city lawmakers demanding Wilson’s firing.

It clearly was a convenient deception.

After multiple demands for information and explanations by Sentinel reporters, it’s become apparent that:

  • The transcription process of curating police reports is not critical to pursuing investigations nor solving crimes and pursuing offenders, as the public was misled to believe by Ed Claughton, CEO of consultant PRI Management Group and author of a scathing report. The exaggerated claims were repeated by city officials.
  • That a backlog of transcribed reports has been a long and recurring problem, predating Wilson’s tenure as chief.
  • Claughton has a profound, documented reputation for criticizing on social media police reform efforts, leaders pushing for police accountability and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • That the author of the report wildly inflated the alleged threat to individuals and the community posed by the backlog.
  • That city officials failed due diligence in assessing the reputation of the report’s author, even in the face of  how critical police reform and practices is to the Aurora community.
  • That Twombly knowingly allowed the report to be used privately and publicly as a way to provide cover for Wilson’s firing, despite the fact it was grossly erroneous and misleading. 
  • That even after much of this came to light after reporting in The Sentinel, city and police officials continued to pursue justification of giving the report credence and credibility by adding that six cases were finally identified justifying Wilson’s critics fear of risks created by the debacle.

These six cases were at best nothing more than compelling illustrations of sloppy policing on the part of officers and investigators, having nothing to do with Wilson nor the lag in transcribed cases. The cases were for the most part old, cold events that never allowed unchecked criminals to continue victimizing people as the report’s author and Wilson’s critics on the city council insisted.

In short, Twombly and city officials still have produced nothing to show that Wilson’s firing was anything less than a political hit job.

Aurora is about to embark on hiring a new chief, after hobbling the city not just with a police department suffering from one of the worst reputations in the country, but now as a city led by a suspect group of lawmakers and officials who have destroyed what little trust and credibility Aurora and the police department had left to offer.

There is nothing more critical to Aurora right now than finding a trustworthy leader of the police department. It comes at a time when crime and violence are so concerning, when the reputation of the police is so appalling and now the stature of those responsible for hiring and overseeing the chief is badly damaged. 

The only hope for Aurora now is complete honesty, transparency and accountability about Wilson’s ouster. Without it, a new chief will struggle against a mountain of doubt and credibility when the job of fixing this ailing police department is nearly insurmountable.  

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SWC
SWC
4 months ago

My word, let it go! She is not coming back. Whay does this rag paper keep stirring the pot? She was the cause if the ills, not the cure.

Last edited 4 months ago by SWC
Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago
Reply to  SWC

Why do you keep reading the “rag paper” and then comment?

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
4 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Come on Joe. This is the second time this week I’ve seen this same comment from you. The answer to your question has been and is today that this rag paper is the only paper in Aurora.

Phil Welch
Phil Welch
4 months ago
Reply to  SWC

This blatant DARVO.

Deflect And Reverse Victim and Offender.

A favorite tactic of sociopaths, narcissists, and Republicans.

Factory Working Orphan
Factory Working Orphan
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Welch

Speaking from experience, proglydyte?

Phil Welch
Phil Welch
4 months ago

Oh look, an example. Thanks, fool. Nice self-own.

Factory Working Orphan
Factory Working Orphan
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Welch

Another “I know you are but what am I” rejoinder, proglydyte?

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
4 months ago
Reply to  SWC

corruption, incompetence, conspiracy, lies, by parts of Aurora leadership that want to stop complying with orders to reform APD and try to scapegoat a woman who is also in the LGBTQ community and hope it all goes away…that’s abominable and should never go away until all facts uncovered. Thank you for not ignoring this Sentinel! It must be dealt with. Aurora citizens’ lives depend on it. No one will trust APD or Aurora govt until the truth is fully out.

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
4 months ago

I’ll be first. Get over it. She’s gone due to a lack of leadership within the APD not whether she was liked by many community leaders nor reports from outsiders. She’s gone for a month or so. Stop your blame campaign. Help fix the problem.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

How do we help fix the problem when the City doesn’t listen to us?

Phil Welch
Phil Welch
4 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

A “lack of leadership within APD” …

Yeah, no, we know that Mr. Room temperature IQ. The dirty cops and the union that protects them hated her.

THAT’S LITERALLY WHAT WE (THE COMMUNITY) NEED.

The problem is people like you, my sad Richard-less simpleton. And a corrupt AF council that interimmed at decrepit good ol’ boy as soon as dirty cops got outed.

I mean can you even see beyond the end of your partisan pathetic Pinocchio nose?

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Welch

Well Phil Welsh, I can see knowing nothing about me allows you to make a bunch of assumptions about my personality. Name call all you want. My guess, the name calling will turn citizens of Aurora against the pointless points that you try to make even those of your same ilk.

You should realize that one of your pointless points was to actually call over 450 APD officers dirty cops, (remembering that over 450 APD officers voted no confidence in her leadership). It can be so easy to be a simpleton and pathetic?

I don’t think you really meant to say that but you did. Is this a DARVO? Did you make DARVO up? What is AF council mean? You need to use your boundless intellect to allow us simpletons to understand what you are really trying to tell us. I’m guessing you can do better, Phil, so I’ll be watching and hoping.

sugar
4 months ago

When Vanessa Wilson said she did not support the camping ban because of the shortage of police personnel, I knew she wasn’t going to be around much longer. How dare her to be honest and
transparent.

Phil Welch
Phil Welch
4 months ago
Reply to  sugar

Little Mikey got his feelsies hurt

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Welch

There you go, Phil, more of your intellect showing. I feel like such a simpleton not understanding your point.

Phil Welch
Phil Welch
4 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

The shoe fits

Don Black
Don Black
4 months ago

It must be great to make sweeping emotional generalizations and shocking accusations without proof. If indeed the police department was mired in these problems for a decade, then Vanessa Wilson is complicit in that. She had a long career where she never stood up to improve things. The majority of officers gave her a vote of no confidence, not just a few. They are aware of the real problems and the real situation. The systemic racism claims by the Attorney General, which Vanesa Wilson obviously supported, has no basis in fact. The consent decree which tries to make the police contacts proportional while black crime is not proportional is a guideline for reduced police effectiveness and greater danger to the community. The city will want a new politically correct chief who will buy into the flawed ideas in the consent decree and who will support the flawed police reform bill that drove hundreds of good officers out of policing. The police reform efforts by people who know nothing about police work have only made things worse. What few officers we have left are afraid to do police work effectively because of the misguided efforts of the “reformers”. We need someone with the courage to stand up and question the consent decree, the Attorney General’s report and the police reform bill. I have challenged anyone to debate me about the police reform bill. While they can act indignant about the police problems, they are afraid to debate the actual facts. Chief Wilson deserved to go if only for her cowardice in not confronting the “invincible fallacy” that has been promoted and exaggerated by the Sentinel. IF you look at each of the incidents that are the basis for the brutal racist cops, you will not find much that says racism other than the race of those involved. If you want me to believe that a group of officers put black children down on the ground purely out of racism, you will have to show me some facts. I have worked with a few racist officers. They were never dealt with by the administration (including Vanessa Wilson). I have never found a whole group of racist officers who would put children on the ground based on race. This incident and others are lumped together by the activists to prove their case. As long as the media, the legislature, and those in charge continue to make spectacular generalizations without fact, the police will never agree. The police have to deal in fact. They cannot agree to things they know are not true. The accusers and the reformers are, for the most part, people who know nothing about police work and the real problems. Those in police work know that they are actually accomplishing just the opposite of what they intend. Luckily, they are afraid to debate any of this in open forum in front of the public. But rant on, the public doesn’t know any better.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago
Reply to  Don Black

And here comes Don, right on schedule with his angry rant. He is the only one who knows anything, after all. The rest of us are just a bunch of dummies.

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
4 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Here is the reality, Joe. Seems to me that you and I address almost anything on this website that we feel we want the citizens of Aurora to hear. I can’t remember Don Black commenting on anything except police related issues.

He is a retired APD Officer spending multiple years in that career. He teaches law enforcement at the college level. When he speaks about APD and law enforcement, Joe, you might do yourself a favor and learn something from his statements instead of just complaining about those statements. I certainly listen. And I don’t get that he writes with anger.

You and I state frequently, using different words, that there are a bunch a dummies related to this website. We just disagree who they are.

Dean
4 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

You call it angry Joe- I consider it more informative and sets off the dishonest reporting this paper is so active at. In other words, Don’s perspective has credibility.

Don Black
Don Black
4 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Do you happen to have an entire career dealing with the police and crime? Did you know Vanessa Wilson when she was not chief? Do you know people who were her supervisor or subordinate? Do you really know anything about what the police reform bill says? Whatever you did for a job, I am sure that I am completely uninformed about. So, why do you pretend that you know something about police work or Vanessa Wilson. If you just want to keep your generalizations about everything, then do so quietly.

john wilson
john wilson
4 months ago
Reply to  Don Black

Or simply stated, the cycle of: bad leadership>fire leader>hire another puppet leader>bad policies> bad leadership….rinse and repeat! All the while the Swamp runs the Police Department.

Last edited 4 months ago by john wilson
Phil Welch
Phil Welch
4 months ago
Reply to  Don Black

Can you please stop with the asinine racist pablum?

Every comment you make is a variation of “black people are more criminal”.

I get it. You’re old. You’re white. You don’t matter. You’re gonna be gone soon either way. Shut up and get on with it.

Are you really so ignorant that you can’t understand that racist policing or inherent criminality would yield the same incarceration rates?

Are you really so blind you can’t understand what a malignant and codified self-fulfilling prophecy would look like?

FFS…can anyone (chief Wilson or you) accomplish change without power? Is she responsible for that turd Metz who ran away from accountability?

And then when she did get some power and effectiveness you HATED what she did with it. Responsibility. Accountability. Open Records.

That’s conservative kryptonite. No wonder you and the Repugnicans on the council hated her.

Listen, old child. You’re the bad guy. Just have some dignity and stop.

Factory Working Orphan
Factory Working Orphan
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Welch

Hey, Philly-poo, I really don’t mind that you hate yourself for being born with white skin, but the least you could do is go the Naomi Judd route for that original sin.

Don Black
Don Black
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Welch

I spent a career trying to improve the department and to get officers to treat everyone with respect. I learned that there are better ways to do policing and to serve the public. You are right. I am gone. I stood up and challenged things that were wrong throughout my career. The things I challenged would have been wrong in almost anyone’s eyes. I reported a lieutenant who was falsifying records to cover racial discrimination by his sergeant. The bosses who liked him made him promise not to test for captain for a year. That was his punishment. He waited a year and then tested and became a captain. Nothing else that would hurt his career. I am unfortunate in that I still care. Standing up certainly did not help my career. The bosses hated me because I questioned unethical things they did. I realize that the current trend that the city is pursuing is actually hurting the public while it appears to be the right thing. If you can answer this question that all the others are dodging, I will be more than willing to listen. If all the studies show that black suspects are disproportionately involved in crime, how do the police make their contacts and arrests proportionate? Should the police just stop old white people when dispatch airs a black suspect? Is it racist that the victims report the suspect was black? If the leading cause of death for young black males is other young black males, are we supposed to ignore that? If you watch the news and young black males are shooting indiscriminately, should the police ignore that out of fear of being racist? So, if we tell the police they must even out the statistics without regard for the public safety, can we expect the police to want to go along with a lie?

There are better ways to create real community policing and better relations with the black community and every other group. I. created the PAR program long ago over the objections of the chief. I got 7,000 citizen signatures and took it to council. It was intended to be a long range program that grew and brought policing down to a neighborhood level. A division chief immediately took me aside and told me that they were going to teach me a lesson and make sure that the program did not work. They were successful in making the program simply a token program. Their approach is always just a feel good talk to people approach that does little to address the problems that are being faced in the neighborhoods. I mean all neighborhoods. I mean getting down in all neighborhoods and getting to know the people and to address their concerns. I mean having the ability to actually address the problems, not just talk about them. There is no race involved. There is only dealing honestly and respectfully with everyone.

Politics and a limited voice keep the public from hearing or having a voice. So, in this limited forum, I will try to give people an understanding that the politicians and political chiefs pursue a path that simply seeks to pacify people. I believe that the public deserves far more transparency than the politicians want to provide. They are afraid of voices that expose how they really work. From my experience, politicians, including the chiefs, understand that they don’t have to really accomplish anything. It just has to appear that they are doing something. The police reform bill and the consent decree are geared toward a goal that is counterproductive to the public safety. The police know that. They realize that all the nice policies and burdensome, vague guidelines, are simply for show and slow police work to crawl. They realize that the department is not systemically racist. They also realize that all the politicians who push that theme are hurting race relations far more than they are helping. When you tell a young black person that everyone white hates you, you don’t do them any favors. Why would they want to succeed in a society that is full of white people? Why would they be a well adjusted human beings? Why would they not run from the police and fight them? Why would they not take a path of drugs and crime if the white society hates them and therefore owes them something?

Just another rant. Sorry that I care. It is a curse.

GeneD
4 months ago
Reply to  Don Black

Maybe ‘the bosses’ just lost interest because you took too long to make your point? This is not an Op-Ed page, Don.

SupporterOfChange
SupporterOfChange
4 months ago

I don’t get why the Sentinel keeps dragging this out. Does it not matter that the city charter gives the city manager the ability to hire and fire AT-WILL employees like the Chief of Police, as he did? Does it not matter that leadership issues can be so broad that there sometimes isn’t an easy way to articulate the need for a change in leadership? Does a backlog of reports in the thousands not matter either? No backlog is ever OK in any organization, but the Sentinel is saying it is in our police department? And the most recent Chief of Police, who held the role for two years, is not at all responsible even though she failed to do anything to fix it in all that time? I supported Vanessa Wilson for the needed change in style at the police department and the commitment to reform, and I still support her as a person because she seems to actually care, but I also recognize that there’s much more to being a Chief than simply that. If you don’t instill confidence in your team and your bosses, you’re not as effective as you need to be. End of story. That’s exactly why the city charter is written the way it is. Stop skewing facts to drive a clear and obvious agenda, Sentinel. You’re an embarrassment and detriment to news outlets that follow the basic tenets of journalism that don’t use loaded language and innuendo.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago

Funny how when things go someone’s way, it’s always “end of story,” no further discussion.

Dean
4 months ago

In short, no one takes seriously what’s coming from Sentinel editorials. Seems like they’re sputtering on fumes.

Phil Welch
Phil Welch
4 months ago
Reply to  Dean

Wrong. Rather say “no one old or racist takes seriously what’s coming from sentinel editorials”.

Duh. You want to live out whatever’s left having your prejudice validated.

This paper provides you adversarial definition. Look it up.

Dean
4 months ago

It’s time to wake up, Sentinel. What you’re doing is supporting a cause that’s become old city history.
Spending any more time come-on. If Miss Wilson feels and thinks she was discriminated against because she qualifies and otherwise is in one of the identified classes, go ahead and sue. And when she loses, which she will, pay up for the cities defense. But of course, we can count on a couple of our socialist council, so enamored with Wilson, that they will twist their fiduciary duty to make the city pay, versus a full trial.

Phil Welch
Phil Welch
4 months ago
Reply to  Dean

Oh like they paid jurinsky s lawyers?

Do you even hear your own hypocrisy?

Dean
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Welch

Phil, please. Would you please refresh my memory with the details of the Lawsuit CM Jurinsky, filed? Sorry, I missed that one. Now, when you and the boys have coffee with CM Marcano, in your next DSA_ https://www.denverdsa.org/ meeting maybe he will help you get up to speed.
Regrettably for the taxpayers, something that CM Marcano very much needed and received a $19,000 lesson on first amendment law, attorney lectures are expensive Phil. Just face it, Marcano’s defective “political-hit-job” was a perfect flop for everyone to see. And you, and others, still seem for some oddball reason think Jurkinsky, got some of the fee.
Call her and ask her, see what she tells you, then report back.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago

Weeks, years and decades. . . it will always be what it was. And it doesn’t matter what the majority of people think.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago

The more I hear and learn, the more I admire what the Chief tried to do in the face of great odds. The “political hit job” just continues, as evidenced by some of the comments. Oh, those people with an agenda. . .

john wilson
john wilson
4 months ago

The only thing clear, is you are bias for the left, not unexpected, but clear…..

Last edited 4 months ago by john wilson
None
None
4 months ago

She was a terrible leader

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
4 months ago

corruption, incompetence, conspiracy, lies, by parts of Aurora leadership that want to stop complying with orders to reform APD and try to scapegoat a woman who is also in the LGBTQ community and hope it all goes away…that’s abominable and should never go away until all facts uncovered. Thank you for not ignoring this Sentinel! It must be dealt with. Aurora citizens’ lives depend on it. No one will trust APD or Aurora govt until the truth is fully out.

john wilson
john wilson
4 months ago

The charges on the girlfriend of Wilson is only the tip of the iceberg if the truth be known…but they just want the ex-chief to go away to save the department if possible. But the Swamp who set all this up for years is still running the department….

Doug
Doug
4 months ago
Reply to  john wilson

Now the FBI is involved??? I do hope we get all the details out in the open finally and get things settled.

Bob
Bob
4 months ago

“In short, Twombly and city officials still have produced nothing to show that Wilson’s firing was anything less than a political hit job”
Debra, you missed the point. The Sentinel continues their water carrying for the chief, yet you insist to agree she should not have been fired. You are going to get your wish however, as the truth is on its way. When we find out chief Wilson was in on the felony, false reporting, are you still going to continue with your illusions and what seems this papers opinions? And it’s going to be dealt with, and I doubt you will like it when the chief comes clean.

Dennis
Dennis
4 months ago

Typical boring Sentinel trash talk, now we have a PAIR of losers. Democrats I bet, republicans are to ashamed to have gaylovers….

None
None
4 months ago

She undermined the police force and the rule of law