Aurora lawmakers pose bill banning police, fire department from joining lobbying organizations

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AURORA | After law enforcement groups opposed nationwide cop reforms, a proposal to sever Aurora’s police and fire departments from professional associations involved in lobbying survived a first look from the Aurora city council at a special study session Monday night.

The plan, pushed by Councilmember Curtis Gardner, will face more scrutiny and possibly become law in future council meetings. 

Gardner’s proposal would ban the Aurora Police Department and Aurora Fire Rescue from belonging to organizations with other departments, such as the regional Metro Chiefs of Police. 

These associations share information, trainings and advocacy networks. But they also involve themselves in politics and voice opinions on laws that would impact the profession. 

If the plan becomes law, city council members would have to specifically allow the police and fire departments’ memberships in associations.

The plan cleared a first hurdle Monday night during a study session. Councilmembers Marsha Berzins, Francoise Bergan and Dave Gruber opposed moving it forward. 

Gardner told the Sentinel he watched law enforcement organizations in particular — including some APD belongs to — recently fight police reforms that the city council had signaled support for. 

For example, the Major Cities Chiefs Association announced in July it “strongly” opposed any attempt to repeal the qualified immunity doctrine, which protects government employees including cops from being personally sued for monetary damages after violating residents’ constitutional rights.

APD Chief Vanessa Wilson belongs to that association. 

But Colorado legislators quashed the court doctrine in June as part of a sweeping police reform law. In July, Aurora’s city council called to end qualified immunity on the city’s legislative priorities list amidst federal plans. 

However, Aurora Fire Rescue told city council it doesn’t belong to any organizations that “focus on lobbying.”

APD’s Chief Wilson said membership groups are indispensable and largely involve training and information-sharing. APD belongs to the Metro Chiefs of Police, Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, she said. 

“It should be noted the Aurora Police Department does not actively engage in lobbying efforts associated with any of these organizations,” she said. 

Councilmember Alison Coombs requested lobbying disclosures from these organizations and those linked with Aurora Fire Rescue. 

If Gardner’s plan becomes city law, these two departments would have to request city council permission to belong with every organization. 

Local Fraternal Order of Police President Marc Sears declined to comment on the plan.

“I don’t like this,” Gruber said. “I think this is going too far.”

Gruber pointed out that other city departments are involved in lobbying by way of their associations. Several council members agreed to scrutinize all city departments, with Gardner leading the charge to eventually cleave Aurora’s taxpayer dollars from any and all lobbying schemes.