PERRY: A skeptical Aurora looks to another police chief for transparency and accountability

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Aurora’s newly appointed interim police chief Art Acevedo at a press conference Nov. 15, 2022 SENTINEL COLORADO/Philip B. Poston

If this Aurora police thing seems oh-so familiar, it’s not just you.

To nearly game-show fanfare, Aurora Interim Police Chief Art Acevedo was cheered onto the local media stage two weeks ago.

Chief Acevedo, come on down. You’re the next contestant on the Plight is Fright.

While too many Aurora councilmembers, administrators and much of the public forget, this is about being afraid — of the city’s own police officers.

Sure, there’s talk about the business of police reform and the “consent decree.” But while Aurora is trading police chiefs as if they were baseball cards, just about every person of color still lives in dread or paralyzing fear of having to come in contact with an Aurora police officer.

Latino moms, South Asian bookkeepers and even Black superintendents of districts all admit, and regret, that seeing APD red-and-blue flashing lights in the rear view mirror isn’t just unnerving like it is for white guys like me. Seeing a cop walking up to your car window still borders on terror for people of color.

“I am a man. I am a Black man. I am a Black man in America,” Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn wrote in an essay for the Sentinel in 2020. It was at a time less than two years ago when massive protests shut down Aurora highways, and one of Aurora’s former police chiefs worked to build trust and confidence in a police department that had obliterated it.

“I am a Black man in America who holds a position of relative authority and privilege,” Munn wrote. “All of these things are true, and all of these things hold meaning for me, especially at this moment in time. I love this country. America has afforded me the opportunity to worship as I please; to get a college degree and a law degree. In America, I have been able to earn a living, marry the girl of my dreams, raise two beautiful children and participate in the civic and cultural life of my community. But also in America, I have been spit on, called a nigger, harassed by the police, denied opportunities and watched Black friends and loved ones systematically jailed, impoverished and dehumanized. My relationship with America is complicated; I am outraged by injustice but never surprised by it. I celebrate what is good about America, but I never forget the lessons my father taught me.”

Munn’s father, who died this year, taught him that Black people in America must fear encounters with police, because too many police officers can’t be trusted to treat them as if they were white.

Those fears have been well-founded across the nation, and in Aurora.

There’s been much more than the horror of police tormenting, torturing and then killing Elijah McClain in August 2019 — and then three officers mocking his death for fun and selfies. The repeated grisly abuse of people of color, and even white people, at the hands of Aurora police officers is appalling.

The entire planet was subjected to video images of Aurora police forcing a car-full of Black girls and women being cuffed while face down on a scorching parking lot, during what was a botched stolen-car stop to begin with.

A young Black man was pistol whipped by an Aurora cop during accusations of vagrancy, and the police body cam offered up the entire episode for the world to watch in horror.

Those are just a couple of APD “incidents” so horrible and happening so frequently that they prompted the state’s attorney general’s office to intervene. The state is demanding changes in Aurora because of “patterns and practices” of abusive force on people of color, and even white people.

Just as grievous as the episodes of calling Black people “porch monkeys” or forcing them to ride in the back of patrol cars cuffed and face down on the floor, begging for help, are the repeated and seemingly endless episodes of concealing the ugly truth about some police in the department.

The Aurora and Colorado Attorney General Consent Decree is about accountability and transparency as much as it is about getting police to stop abusing minorities.

As the sordid reality of what’s been going on at APD for the past decade began spilling out, and ranking APD commander Vanessa Wilson was ushered in as chief, change in earnest began.

Wilson promised accountability and transparency in the department, and she delivered it. Regularly.

She fired cops who pistol whipped Black men. She excoriated a police union chief for sending off patently racist and sexist emails to the rank and file.

She not only listened to people of color in Aurora, she acted on what they told her.

Wilson was making headway in insisting that most Aurora police really can and should be trusted, and so should the department. She had gotten the attention, and the trust, of Aurora communities of color.

Then, the city fired her.

Despite incredible explanations why, it’s become clear over the past several months that more APD upset was the result of thin-majority of recently elected white city councilmembers. These lawmakers publicly side with cops angry over Wilson’s demands for reform, accountability and the notion that police should be held to a high standard for their behavior.

Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky took to far-right radio airwaves to call out Wilson as “trash.”

That led to the return of former Aurora police chief Dan Oates, whose 15-minutes of fame sizzled in a column last year he wrote for the Washington Post, arguing that police chiefs need to be able to fire rogue cops when they go rogue.

During the past six months, while Oates was holding the reins of APD, he talked about the need for trust, transparency and accountability.

Oates, however, looked the other way as a prominent police commander, Cassidee Carlson, became embroiled in a sordid episode of violating restraining orders while intervening in a pal’s messy divorce. Then he rebuffed two police boards demanding her discipline. And then he promoted her instead.

He did all that, and he diminished the APD internal affairs unit, and he obliterated the Chief’s Review Board, and neither he nor the city ever said a word to the public about what he’d done. If not for reporters at the Sentinel, the public would never know what Oates did while city administrators and council members stood by and watched.

Last week, the same city leaders didn’t rebuke Oates for secretly altering city police accountability, taking care of an old pal and undermining what little trust and credibility the department has clawed back. They threw him a party.

And, so here we are again. It’s the same city council members who lauded Oates for his dubious brief tenure. The ones who looked away despite Oates also secretly un-firing a new Aurora officer sacked after being arrested for participating in a drunken brawl off duty, scrapping with the cops who arrested him.

The result is a city where more than half the residents are people of color, afraid that a slim majority of city lawmakers will stand behind their preferred concern about how Aurora cops are treated, and not the racial minorities those cops encounter.

So, welcome to Aurora, Chief Acevedo. Your message about transparency, accountability and showing the entire region that the Aurora Police Department, and every officer who works there, can be trusted to do the right thing is desperately needed and welcome.

Hundreds of thousands of people of color who live, work and shop here are anxious for you to make good on a promise that needs to be fulfilled now.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Mastadon, Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]

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Don Black
Don Black
1 month ago

It is sad that a liberal like Dave Perry uses the same tactics that the Nazis used. That is, tell a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth and tell a big enough lie and people will think it must be true. I can take any profession and through the years use small examples of perceived bad behavior to make a case for the fact that their organization is racist, corrupt, or in some way just bad. It becomes easier when I am allowed to twist all of the facts of each case.

I am sorry that Rico Munn’s father gave him a distorted view of the world. Yes, there have been and probably always will be some police officers like his father feared. That has become much less so through the years. I worked with police officers for close to forty years and I saw the changes in policing for all of those years. I also had the benefit of listening to old time officers talk about the job. I had the benefit of listening to a friend, a now retired black lieutenant, talk about the racism he faced as a young officer.

I would be glad to sit in front of an audience with Dave Perry and discuss each of his wild claims. The distorted language that he uses to describe each incident is so far from truth that it fits the big lie approach the Nazis made popular.

Let us look at some of the incidents. First, Elijah McClain was not tortured. The officers were cleared by the department and a DA before the popular narrative took over. I have watched the video many times. The officers sought to have medical assistance arrive as soon as possible. They put Elijah on his side immediately, so he could breathe and not aspirate vomit. They did not order fire rescue to inject Elijah with ketamine. The most recent medical expert has said that the police did not do anything that caused Elijah’s death. But I guess Dave Perry will help instigate the riots when the police officers are cleared. Poor Elijah did not cooperate with the police and struggled mightily. As in most cases, he precipitated force by his resistance. In his case, he knew he had done nothing wrong. All he had to do was to cooperate and he would have been on his way. Hysterics like those advanced by Dave Perry guarantee that more people of color will be injured by failing to stop when told to do so by the police. The only other way to prevent these incidents is for the police to not stop anyone. That is where we are headed. The badly flawed police reform bill has created a situation where the police just stand back and let bad things happen. Again, I would be glad to publicly debate anyone from the legislature about the reform bill. When the police legal advisors tell their police officers that they don’t know what the bill means, we have a problem.

Let us look at the incident where the the officers did a high risk stop on what they thought was a stolen vehicle and had black children get down on their faces. You can say that that was poor judgment and that officers should have been trained to use some discretion and alternate tactics. That failure to train falls back on people like former Chief Wilson. Rote learning means that you simply follow procedures as you were taught and do not adjust with the circumstances. I have worked with a few racist officers on Aurora PD. They were few and far between and they were never dealt with by the political types who become chiefs. But I have never seen a collection of racist officers together in one group who would subject black children to humiliating treatment out of racist motives. Maybe somewhere else, but not Aurora. Sorry, bad judgment and training, but not collective police racism.

Let us look at the emotional case where an officer beat a felony resisting suspect with his gun. What the body cam video does not show is the suspect grabbing for the officer’s gun before he is hit. Yes, he is using language to indicate that he is not resisting. I have seen that many times. Meanwhile he continues to fight until other officers tase him. He started resisting right from the start. None of the witnesses said that the suspect ever cooperated. The officer had his gun in his hand as is appropriate when dealing with a suspect who has a felony warrant for a violent crime. Not to mention that two other felony suspects have just run from the officers. With your gun in your hand, you have limited options in struggling with a resisting suspect. That becomes more the case when he grabs for your gun. At that point, there are no rules. Studies have shown that if the suspect gets your gun, he will use it against you. Chief Wilson said that what the officer did was not what they train. First, Chief Wilson would have no idea what they train. As a police trainer, I can tell you that many times officers have had to hit suspects with their gun when it was in their hand. I defy anyone to tell me that the department taught some great way to control a suspect with your gun in one hand. In the video, at one point, the officer tries unsuccessfully to holster his gun to be able to sue both hands. When a suspect is grabbing at your gun, it is dangerous to try to holster.

I could go on. However, let us look at the consent decree. The popular narrative is a useful tool for those with political ambitions. The Attorney General’s report is full of the same distortions that Dave Perry throws out. The idea advanced by those on the left and the popular media is that stops and arrests are disproportionate by race and are therefor indicative of police racism. The first part is true. The second part is not. The studies have shown that the black population is disproportionately involved in crime, particularly violent crime. There is no way to do police work effectively and make the arrests proportionate by race. First, race should have no consideration in arrest. While the mainstream media rants about police racism, the television screen is full of black suspects looting, robbing, and killing. Black suspects are disproportionately involved in hate crimes agains Asian Americans. The leading cause of death for young black males is other young black males. The police do not account for even a fraction of the deaths to young black males. I have had the painful duty of telling a black mother that her son was killed by black gangsters even though she had moved to Aurora to get her son away from the gangs.

The city council has made much of the fact that the police were going to use data to direct their activities. I can tell you that the police have used data and crime reports to direct their activities for at least fifty years. Notice in their first report of arrests in the new approach, that the statistics are not proportionate by race. When you go by reported crime, the police will be be in minority neighborhoods. I know, I know. That is overpolicing, according to the activists. But I have been thanked by many residents for dealing with the gangs and drugs in their neighborhoods. One that stands out in my mind was a young black single mother who thanked us for raiding a nest of black gangsters. She said that she could not let her children go out to play due to the gunfire by the gangsters.

Police chiefs have been political types for a long time. It is the nature of man to pick smooth talking political types to be leaders. But, the political types usually know little about the job and are more motivated by self interest. If you are looking for ideas to improve actual police service, you should not look to a politician like the chief. The only difference now is that the chief has to be a minority or a woman. They are still political types who simply tell you, in eloquent terms, how caring and sensitive they are.

So, I guess Dave Perry will go on fanning the flames of racism and hatred by his distortions. But police work is about protecting everyone, not just one segment of the population. By the way, Dave, there are not hundreds of thousands of people of color in Aurora.

Good Citizen
Good Citizen
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Black

Don has been stealing you tax dollars for years and wants to continue to do so. I have no problem with him beating up punks, but he wants too much money for it. Look at the city budget, what percentage of it goes to “police protection” and what are you getting for you dollar? Don and his buddies can’t produce any specifics in reference to a drop in crime statistics due to their efforts and the inordinate amount of money they squeeze out of the public to do it. Oh, they have plenty of personal anecdotes about crimes they have “prevented”, which, of course, can’t be confirmed. Let’s get that money to law enforcement that actually investigates crimes and makes arrests that a DA can use rather than some overpaid thug in a clown costume sitting on his butt in a patrol car.

The police are ten minutes away from drawing a chalk line around you when you are shot. So much for “prevention”. Take responsibility for you own safety and send these welfare recipients over to someone that will actually put them to work.

Don Black
Don Black
1 month ago
Reply to  Good Citizen

I hate to say it, but people like you have made it ever more important that you protect yourself since they have destroyed any chance the police will be able to protect you. Do you think maybe you have over stereotyped the police? I would have liked to have someone like you ride with me back when I was working. Maybe you would have a more accurate picture of what the job was and what the police do. I always taught officers not to do anything that they would be ashamed to tell their mother. That doesn’t fit with the image you have.

Good Citizen
Good Citizen
1 month ago
Reply to  Don Black

I don’t ride with welfare recipients. Prove that you provide value for my dollar. You can’t and will not do so. You know, money spent vs real world results. I’ll accept it in any recognized form. What have you accomplished at any time when you have been picking my picket? Do you have to provide this information when you asked for never ending increases in funding? My job depends on results, not bs promises. Get a job.

Don Black
Don Black
1 month ago
Reply to  Good Citizen

Interesting choice of a name for yourself. I don’t believe any logic or proof would sway you. if I believed that you had some knowledge about the subject other than what you saw in the movies, it might be worth continuing this dialogue. I presume you got a ticket once and have been bitter ever since.

Beverly Bennett
Beverly Bennett
1 month ago

This is a fantastic editorial. Some people would just rather not believe it and there is no justification at all for the death of Eljah McClain. I can’t believe that anyone would argue that. Depressing.

DICK MOORE
1 month ago

I could strongly argue that Elijah McClain and his mother was 100% at fault for his death. But not with you, Beverly as you’re a simpleton with your mind already made up and like yourself, I find that depressing but only for you.

Anyway, I wish the best for our new Chief. I strongly suspect that after dealing with our local radicals, socialists and this Sentinel blog, he will pull the plug on his interim contract and be on his way not too long in the future.

mack
mack
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

what do you know about the McClain family

DICK MOORE
1 month ago
Reply to  mack

Lots. But, I never reply to anyone who can’t use proper written language in any comments. It becomes an exercise in futility.

Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
1 month ago

So, I’m guessing all the hypocritical leftists on here are equally incensed and determined to cancel all their entertainment colleagues who displayed more egregious examples of “racism,” including appearing on camera to millions in blackface?

The list is long, and includes Fred Armisen, Dan Aykroyd, Jack Black, Zach Braff, Billy Crystal, Ted Danson, Robert Downey Jr.Jimmy Fallon, Jon Hamm, Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman and Howard Stern.

Last edited 1 month ago by Hypocrisy Monitor