Aurora reaches agreement with Colorado AG to improve policing practices

Consent decree follows report finding racial bias, indictments in Elijah McClain case

By: - November 16, 2021 3:20 pm

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson speaking about a consent decree between the attorney general’s office and city on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. (Screenshot from The Aurora Channel on Youtube)

The City of Aurora’s police and fire departments are expected to enter into an agreement with the state attorney general’s office to change a wide range of policies and practices as part of ongoing work to improve the departments’ culture.

The consent decree, unveiled Tuesday and agreed to in principle, directs the departments to change use-of-force policies, develop a system to collect information about police interactions, work to hire employees that reflect the city’s diversity and review policies over the administration of sedatives like ketamine. It follows a report released in September that showed a pattern and practice of racially biased policing in Aurora. 

“The ultimate goal of this consent decree is to elevate policing and to improve public safety here in Aurora,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said Tuesday during a press conference with city officials. “The hard work ahead is aimed at building trust in law enforcement that operates with the spirit of continuous improvement, a commitment to protecting public safety using legal and just means and an awareness of the bond of trust between law enforcement and the community.”

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The agreement is a judicially-enforceable contract between the city and the attorney general’s office. The city will hire an outside monitor, either one person or multiple people to monitor each issue area, to track its progress in following the decree. It is expected to last five years.

“The idea is not really an ‘I gotcha’ sort of thing or boiling things down to the minutiae, but really looking at big picture improvements that will help move us forward,” Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said of that monitor. He said the city will likely spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars” per year on the role. 

The decree creates a framework for the following directives:

  • Creating guidance to help with police officers’ perceived or actual biases
  • Improving use-of-force policies to avoid unnecessary escalation
  • Improving efforts to hire police and fire department personnel who reflect Aurora’s diversity
  • Creating a system to collect data on police interaction with the community
  • Ensuring legal administration of chemical sedatives and requiring policy review before ketamine can be used again

“The City shall create a culture of enforcement that prioritizes de-escalation when possible in accordance with Colorado law, but does not compromise officer safety when force must be used,” the decree reads in its section on use-of-force. “The City shall improve and develop accountability measures that consistently identify excessive uses of force, situations where force should not have been used even if it was legal, and recurring training and tactical issues related to use of force.”

The decree also requires the police department to create new policies regarding when officers can make stops and give practical guidance on how to use that discretion.

Additionally, the decree prohibits Aurora Fire Rescue from using ketamine without approval of a new policy from the outside monitor. Fire Chief Fernando Gray said Tuesday that the department does not plan to reintroduce the use of ketamine.

A temporary mural of Elijah McClain painted on a building in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Evans)

The investigation and report that preceded the consent decree came after national outcry over the treatment of Black Americans by law enforcement, including Elijah McClain, the unarmed 23-year-old who died in August 2019 after a detainment by Aurora police and injection of a large dose of ketamine.

Earlier this year, three Aurora police officers and two paramedics were indicted on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide as a result of a grand jury investigation into McClain’s death.

“I know that this has been 23 months of pain, 23 months of difficult conversations, 23 months of change and reform,” Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said Tuesday.

“To the officers on the street, this consent decree is nothing to be afraid of,” she continued. “To the community, I hope that it shows you that we are willing to change, willing to listen to you and hear what you want from us and police you the way you want to be policed.”

Aurora City Council will vote on whether to formally adopt the decree during its Nov. 22 meeting. The Requests for Proposal for the independent monitor are already out and due by Nov. 19. Those applications will then be reviewed by the city and attorney general.

Read a copy of the consent decree below:

Consent-Decree-Fully-Negotiated-Final-Form-of-Agreement

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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