Data takes reestablished DART police officers to north Aurora to solve car thefts, curb crime

Aurora Police investigate the scene of a shooting Jan. 31, 2022. A unidentified man shot an unidentified woman in the leg at this location on the north side of East Colfax Avenue near Beeler Street. PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON, Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Aurora police believe the key to curbing car thefts and other prominent crimes could be an elite proactive policing team, which cops now say has been operating around north Aurora for just over a month.

The Direct Action Response Team, called DART, was resurrected in July after being disbanded years ago by former police chief Nick Metz, who opted to increase the department’s SWAT capabilities instead, according to Special Operations Division chief Jad Lanigan.

The team also bears resemblance to proactive policing teams in other cities that have drawn the scrutiny of organizations such as the ACLU, which said it’s opposed to the Aurora program.

“DART is not a new philosophy for the police department. We’re just starting to reimagine it,” Lanigan said. “We’re going to take the data that shows where crime and violent crime are happening and ask this team to concentrate their efforts on those areas.”

The team frees officers from patrol responsibilities, ensuring they’re not “tied to a radio,” and instead assigns them to tasks like searching for specific suspects or stolen vehicles, Lanigan explained.

Using the data shared in regular meetings on crime strategy, robberies, pattern crimes, non-fatal shootings and homicides as well as data provided by police analysts — including hot-spot maps and information reported as part of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program — DART command staff determine where to deploy the team, police spokeswoman Sgt. Faith Goodrich said.

DART’s dozen officers, two detectives, two sergeants and one lieutenant have only been directed to follow the data and “saturate” the neighborhoods where certain crimes are statistically prevalent — so far, many of the arrests have taken place in north Aurora.

Lanigan said the team is empowered to work flexible hours. They’ve been equipped with covert vehicles, license plate readers, devices that fire a GPS tracker at fleeing cars and other tools to hunt for stolen cars specifically.

It’s the first major anti-crime program to come out of Dan Oates’ transitional administration, at a time when Aurora and Colorado are grappling with a rise in motor vehicle thefts, shootings and other crimes.

Aurora police last month say they logged a 34.5% increase in car thefts, comparing the number of incidents so far this year compared to to the same time period last year, along with a 27.7% increase in aggravated assaults and a 28.6% increase in murders.

In its first few weeks, Lanigan said DART managed to hunt down a dozen stolen cars, all but two of which were occupied, along with three guns and an unspecified volume of drugs.

“We’re hoping this team can go out, and give people the ability to walk the streets, and enjoy their parks, and go to the grocery store without being a victim of crime,” he said.

Oates in June described his plans to reintroduce Aurora’s DART program, modeled off New York City’s anti-street-crime units, called Neighborhood Safety Teams.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams brought the Neighborhood Safety Teams back earlier this year, despite concerns that past iterations of the teams received a disproportionate number of brutality and bias complaints.

Lanigan said DART officers were selected from a pool of about 40 applicants based in part on their Internal Affairs record of using force — officers facing an open internal affairs investigation would be turned down, as would officers that were the subject of a sustained complaint of unreasonably using force.

The candidates were interviewed, along with their supervisors. Lanigan said candidates were required to have been with the department for at least three years.

“We wanted to know, are these people out there proactively policing our neighborhoods right now? Are they good at working in a team? Because this is more of a team,” he said.

Once selected, the officers were sent back to a police academy for two weeks to receive refresher training in areas such as Constitutional law, de-escalation and working with vulnerable populations, as well as high-risk stops, rolling surveillance and the use of less-lethal weapons.

Oates said de-escalation training was specifically set as a priority for the officers who would be assigned to DART. He said he was “aware that we’ve had challenges in this community around trying to do proactive policing” and that the department was “being very carefully watched to make sure we do that in an ethical and constitutional way.”

The team made its first arrest July 27, and has since effected dozens of arrests for everything from drug and weapons crimes to car theft and robbery, according to Lanigan and information shared by the department on social media.

“Nobody wants drugs in their neighborhood. Nobody wants prostitution or stolen cars,” Lanigan said. “If we can take away the problems in society, then the bad people won’t go to those areas to create havoc in our community.”

Juveniles arrested, too

Lanigan said at an Aug. 11 city council policy committee meeting that “many” DART arrestees were juveniles. Goodrich later shared data on the team’s arrests made through Aug. 20 — close to 50 in total, plus around 10 criminal summonses. 

The data indicates that four or five of those arrested were juveniles, between 8.2% and 10% of all DART arrestees, including one 12-year-old boy. That’s compared to 197 children out of the 3,354 people arrested by APD this year through mid-August, or 5.9% of all arrestees.

Given the frequency of juvenile arrests effected by DART officers, Goodrich said police and the city “recognize the importance of connecting with the youth in our community” and included a link to a webpage for city-run youth programs.

“The increase in crime and juveniles committing crimes is not solely an Aurora issue, it is being experienced in many of the Metro Areas,” Goodrich wrote in an email. “It is a multi-faceted problem. As such, it would be irresponsible to speculate as to the reasons why.”

As for the racial makeup of DART arrestees, 21 were white, representing between 42% and 42.9% of the group; 22 or 23 were Black, or between 44.9% and 46%; and six were Hispanic, or between 12% and 12.2%.

Census data from 2020 indicates that about 42% of the city’s population is white, 15% is Black and 30% is Hispanic or Latino. In the 80010 ZIP Code, where more than half of the arrests through Aug. 20 took place, about 23% of residents were reportedly white, 16% were Black and 50% were Hispanic or Latino.

In 2021, the police department reported that about 30% of its arrestees were white, 39% were Black, 29% were Hispanic and the remaining 3% were some other race.

While initial data in the first weeks of operation does not indicate that people of color are being arrested disproportionately, at least one prominent civil rights organization says it’s still opposed to proactive policing programs such as DART.

Taylor Pendergrass, director of advocacy for the ACLU of Colorado, said cities impact crime more effectively through violence interruption (the city agreed to invest $40,000 in one such program run by the University of Colorado earlier this year), neighborhood meetings, foot patrols by uniformed officers and other strategies focusing on community engagement.

“The ACLU would advocate for Aurora as a city to invest in those community-based solutions rather than looking to policing as the solution for rising violence,” Pendergrass said.

Lanigan said DART was a reallocation of officers currently employed by the department and that the creation of the program didn’t involve budgeting for more officers.

Pendergrass said the push by New York and Aurora police to reintroduce street crime units such as DART is unique at a time when many departments are moving away from that model, calling New York’s decision to disband its teams in 2020 “appropriate.”

“These types of units have proven to be so woefully ineffective at actually addressing the root causes of violence and crime, while just creating massive constitutional violations and racial profiling,” he said. “If we could have arrested our way out of violence with aggressive policing, we would have solved the programs a long time ago.”

Pendergrass also cited successful litigation against New York’s Police Department for its stop-and-frisk policy, as legality of enforcement practices have been criticized for targeting minority neighborhoods. North Aurora, where police say they have been pointed by crime data, is also home to a large share of Aurora’s residents of color.

However, Pendergrass said departments should be equally deterred by the fact that programs such as DART have been “a failure across the board” at mitigating crime, according to the ACLU.

Lanigan said the department is still in a “staffing crisis,” but that they hope to make a significant dent in crime with the DART model.

“Now, the chief again wants a proactive team to go out and address violent crime through statistics,” he said.

“Everyone in this community in Aurora deserves to be able to walk the street, and go out in public, and go to a park, and enjoy dinner. So if there’s crime in the community, that’s where we want our officers to go.”

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J Walter
J Walter
4 months ago

We’ve had two cars stolen and two OTHER stolen cars dumped on our street near Tynan’s used-car lot, one belonging to a mother with young kids, (clearly from contents), and another identified by its bullet holes! Soooo, North Aurora where they steal and shoot each others’ cars is more important to police? Swell.

4 months ago

Anybody remember this approach from The Wire or The Shield?

Cynthia Ballinger
Cynthia Ballinger
4 months ago

Ok, then you will publish this article, how many of those bad elements will come south into our neighborhoods. Two of our neighbors came over to our home yesterday to show us video of the man in his white full size Chevrolet pickup that pulls next to our truck parked on the street, a man gets out and looks into my truck, then jumps in the truck and it drives off. In Southeast Aurora, Tower and Hampden. I keep hearing on Next Door that neighborhoods are speaking about the thefts and break ins. Will things get better? Only if these children, yes only children steal from others, stop or get caught and do time! It’s sad but do they need a hard core jail or prison? Not for me to judge. It has gotten worse since the Governor took away immunity for our police in Colorado and specifically Aurora. Our biggest hopes as citizens are that the truly bad elements in the police force left and walked away on their own. I am very sure it is extremely difficult for officers to make life and death decisions on a daily basis. Us citizens wonder, what happened to the days when an officer shot to bring someone down, not to kill them? Our law enforcement system is soooo messed up. People doing 60 and 80 mph on 40 mph zones. How bad will those accidents be? See how things cascade? But these youth need parents to guide them, not be their FRIEND!!!”

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago

Training in constitutional law, de-escalation and working with vulnerable populations, as well as high-risk stops, rolling surveillance and the use of less-lethal weapons sounds like something from which most officers could benefit.

We hope this program is successful and then shared in other districts around the City. If handled correctly, I don’t see why this should be opposed by the ACLU.

Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
4 months ago

Kudos to interim chief Oates and the department to increase efforts in areas where criminals are. It just makes sense. Of course, the “social justice warriors” are already screaming OVERPOLICING. That’s what they call it when an inordinate number of POC criminals are arrested for committing crimes. Here’s a thought for them: Stop committing crimes.

Don Black
Don Black
4 months ago

One can only shake one’s head at how weak and incompetent government has become. The City of Aurora bowed to the distorted representation of their police department as racist and agreed to pay four million dollars to have someone monitor a consent decree that never should have been accepted. There were never any facts that made the contacts of blacks in Aurora racist. The only racist fact was that an officer made some racist comments. The basis of the Attorney General’s consent was that the incidents, that were never contested by the City, were racist because they involved black people and that the stops and arrests were disproportionate by race. What the police understand is that the statistics will be disproportionate by race if they are doing their job. No politician wants to admit the politically unacceptable truth. Blacks are disproportionately involved in crime. The studies have all shown that fact. The statistics are disproportionate in Denver and even in that bastion of truth light and beauty, Boulder. As a former member of a DART team, I can tell you that crime data has been used to focus police efforts for decades. Nothing new there. The crime stats will mean that the focus is on the high crime areas that are usually where many people of color live. Many of the victims are people of color. Unless we just ignore crime, the statistics will be disproportionate. Should the officers then focus on just arresting white people to make the stats proportionate? At any rate, if the City would have stood up and made the Attorney General come up with some real evidence of racism, then they would not be paying a fortune of the taxpayers money to have someone force the police to do something illogical and against the public interest. The police efforts will make some areas safer. No, they can never address the underlying factors that cause crime. Let me shock you with this. Many of the criminals are just really bad, opportunistic types who aren’t just poor people out of work. the City put itself in a bad position by not standing up and addressing facts instead of the media and radical positions. Now, they are automatically racist and must pay out every time a black criminal complains. They have allowed the media and the legislature to create an environment that drove many good officers out of law enforcement. If the City had any courage and good sense, they would have stood up to the lies presented by the Attorney General and they would have raised a ruckus about the horrendously bad police reform bill. The bill addresses use of force in such a vague way that officers know they cannot risk most contacts. Further, the punitive bill and the environment it created, made proactive police work dangerous for officers.

The irony here is that we are saying that the crime stats are disproportionate when we really address crime. Yet, it seems to be lost on everyone that the whole idea behind the Attorney General’s consent decree is that the statistics must be proportionate. The City is paying four million dollars to make sure that happens. What am I missing here?

Don Black
Don Black
4 months ago

Fascinating. As a former member of a DART team, let me give you some thoughts. DART is a hammer that is used in the highest crime areas or on particular crime trends. It helps and it is necessary. Regular patrol efforts are often not enough. No, DART will not address the root problems causing crime. Let me shock some of you. Most criminals are opportunistic people who are often very bad. They are not mostly poor people down on their luck.

I originated a program that was designed to handle the type of problems that you are seeing all over the city in neighborhoods. It was called the PAR program. the chief’s office resented the program and quickly made it a token program. It did not expand the way it was designed to do to handle the problems in your individual neighborhoods. Now, with the damage done to police recruiting by the legislature, the radicals, and the media, it is too late to develop a comprehensive program that actually attacks the neighborhood problems. While DART is attacking some high profile problem, your neighborhoods will continue to suffer from all the thefts, vandalism, traffic problems and a host of other “minor” crimes. For the people in the area where DART works, things will get a little better. A disproportionate number of arrests will be people of color. Try to remember that the victims in those areas are often people of color.

The irony in the latest efforts of DART is that it is in direct opposition to all of the ideas that are in the consent decree. The City paid 4 million dollars to a company to monitor the consent decree. The consent decree is based upon Attorney General Weiser’s badly flawed and politically correct assessment of racism in the APD. Weiser’s flawed logic says that if the racial statistics on arrests are not proportionate to the racial distribution then the department is racist. The statistics are not proportionate in Denver or even in that bastion of truth, light and beauty, Boulder. The studies have shown that blacks are disproportionately involved in crime. If the police are doing their job, the statistics will be disproportionate. I don’t understand the author’s statement about the initial statistics not showing disproportionate arrests when they clearly state that over 40% of the arrests were of black people while the area is 16% black. This would indicate that the police will need to find a bunch of white people to arrest to make the statistics proportionate as is the goal under the consent decree.

The City erred badly in not contesting Weiser’s characterization of the department as racist. Weiser labeled all incidents involving black persons as racist without any evidence at all. There was one incident where an officer used a racist slur. that falls short of a whole department being racist. Weiser used his flawed disproportionate logic to advance his argument. The City should have fought back. Instead, they allowed the narrative to destroy the police department and set the City up for more lawsuits from unhappy black criminals. The City and the Police Chief should have stood upon against the badly flawed police reform bill that created a disastrous environment for law enforcement. Even today, no one can tell us what the vague language in the bill really means when it comes to use of force. With punitive measures in place and no clear guidance on use of force, the police are forced to leave or do very little.

So, it is ironic that now the police have to try to address crime while not violating Weiser’s proportionate standard. Clearly, that cannot be done without further sacrificing the public’s safety. More ironic is that the City is paying out a fortune to make sure that APD does not violate Weiser’s standard. All the while supposedly fighting crime.