Over the last 18 months you have heard me say that city management will not waver from its commitment to ‘A New Way’ of policing in Aurora. I mean it. As a city, we are committed to supporting our officers in a turbulent time for the profession while we ask them to meet our community’s expectations for transparency and reform. Like many of you, I want those changes to occur as quickly as possible. That is why we did not wait for the results of ongoing reviews to start making changes.
While many reforms have already occurred, we cannot let a desire for expedience — that we all share — replace our most important objective: getting it right. This is an ongoing collaboration between city, state and community leaders and the hardworking officers who embrace this work and continue to bravely protect our city. All of us want to adopt best practices and learn from others across the country, but that is not enough. We want to set the standard on what those best practices should be and create a department that best serves our community members, listens to their needs and furthers our ideals of equity and inclusion.
Chief Vanessa Wilson and I put forth the five-point ‘New Way’ plan in October 2020 to serve as a roadmap toward meaningful reform in operations, accountability, engagement, service and leadership. It furthers the work already underway. We have taken steps in each category, several of which are worth highlighting:
- Joined the Critical Incident Response Teams (CIRT) for the 17th and 18th Judicial Districts
- Hired a police auditor who has reviewed the existing body-worn camera system and is currently reviewing APD’s K9 unit and open records processes
- Utilized input from the Community Policing Advisory Team to select new body-worn cameras, the type and use of restraint systems, aid in selecting APD leadership, and improve trainings involving traffic stops and de-escalation techniques
- Established Chief’s Youth Advisory Team
- Recruited members of the community to regularly share their experiences about APD with new recruits at the police training academy at the Chief’s invitation
- Changed policies and procedures in how officers respond to suspicious persons, an officer’s duty to intervene, the authorized firing of a weapon, and the officer relief process during use-of-force incidents
- Banned carotid holds
- Created the Force Investigation Unit (FIU) tasked with investigating all uses of police force
- Hired the Community Relations Chief Executive to bring civilian insight to the Chief’s level
- Instituted ongoing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training and discussions across the department and city
Our dedicated staff at APD continue to show their commitment to this community and are key in the success of these initiatives. The city has also made progress in other departments to complement the ‘New Way’ plan as we recognize that meaningful reforms in policing are multidimensional:
- Hired a public safety communications manager
- Updated and clarified transition of care policies between the APD and Aurora Fire Rescue
- Suspended the use of ketamine
- Launched the Youth Violence Prevention Program, and recruited youth to serve on the citywide Youth Violence Prevention Advisory Council
While progress is being made, we need to do more, and we will. For example, in coming months, the APD and the city’s Information Technology department will implement new systems to track officer contacts with the public and improve transparency. We are also nearing the launch of the Aurora Mobile Response Team pilot program, which will provide a non-police response to emergency calls that involve mental health, homelessness and substance abuse issues. The program is inspired by the successful CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) program in Eugene, Oregon. Additionally, I am working with City Council to fund the independent police monitor and stand up the program.
Other reform recommendations commissioned by the city, such as those set forth in the reports by the Community Policing Task Force and the Independent Review Panel led by Jonathan Smith that investigated the Elijah McClain case, are already being considered and will be incorporated into the recommendations we are set to receive from 21CP Solutions, the independent firm we hired to conduct a thorough assessment of the APD. We hope to have all the reviews in place by the end of the summer and will fairly and equitably consider all the recommendations, knowing that some of them may not be immediately actionable by the city alone.
I want our reform efforts to have long-lasting success and a positive impact on community members. Some of them, which seek to solidify large-scale systemic change, will require tough conversations and adjustments along the way. I thank each of you who have already contributed — members of the City Council, community leaders and activists, residents, members of the APD and city employees who answered the call to help. We must work together and support each other.
This is not a sprint nor is it a marathon — it is both. I support our reform efforts and I support our officers. We can and should support both. I assure you that Aurora will not waver from its commitment to have city departments and agencies that embody the rich, culturally diverse community we serve.
Jim Twombly is Aurora City Manager.