Aurora police lieutenant retires early, blames city council

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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) – As more officers leave the Aurora Police Department, one retired lieutenant shared his dismay with the Aurora City Council in a letter that FOX31 obtained. 

Retired Lt. Dave Cernich said in his letter, “It is with great sadness that I inform you of my retirement after 25 years in law enforcement. I spent the past 20 years in Aurora and it was a pleasure to do so, until this year. I can honestly say that my retirement is a result of you. I am disheartened by your lack of respect for the occupation that I’ve revered for so long.”

Cernich was shot in the line of duty in 1999 while conducting a traffic stop. He credits his bullet proof vest with saving his life.

“I experienced every single emotion you could experience from shock when he shot me to fear, to anger, to sorrow,” he said. “Every emotion in 15-20 seconds. I still wanted to give back. The shooting made me a better man, made me a better officer.”

Cernich said he always wanted to be a police officer. But he said the past six months have changed his mind.

“I’m leaving premature as a result of what’s going on in the community. What’s going on in the community is fostered by city council and the city manager,” he said.

He knows he is not alone. “Ninety percent of my department wants to leave. They want to leave for the same reasons I outlined in my letter to city council. They don’t feel appreciate by the community anymore. They don’t feel appreciated by city council anymore, there’s protests every single weekend, there’s people spitting on us, calling us all kinds of bad names.”

He said when protestors took over District 1 on July 3 was when he made up his mind to retire early. “The city thinks their First Amendment right is more important than my life. I can’t protect my cops anymore. City council is dictating what the cops do. I can’t protect my troops anymore; as a lieutenant, if I can’t protect my troops, I don’t need to be there,” he said.

“This is an agenda being politicized and It needs to stop. You’re going to lose a lot of good people who aren’t going to be there when you need help.”

Marc Sears, President of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 49, is concerned more officers will be retiring or resigning in the near future.

“I think it’s important for the citizens of aurora to understand everything he wrote is true and that’s exactly the stance that council takes with us. There’s no support whatsoever,” Sears said. “They are way out of their lane when it comes to council trying to make decisions on how to run a police department. None of them have any idea how to run a police department or be a police officer. They need to learn to stay in their lane.”

APD released these statistics showing how many officers have left the department so far this year, compared to previous years:

  • 2017 – 33 Resignation, 15 Retirements, 0 Terminations
  • 2018 – 34 Resignations, 20 Retirements, 1 Termination
  • 2019 – 37 Resignations, 14 Retirements, 1 Termination
  • 2020 (to date) – 24 Resignations, 35 Retirements, 8 Terminations

“That’s very disturbing. The citizens of Aurora, it should be very disturbing to them too. You’re losing 70 cops. That’s 70 less cops on the streets trying to protect them and serve them. I’m really concerned about where law enforcement especially for the City of Aurora is going to go. I’m very concerned about it,” Sears said.

“You want to treat him like that, he’s just going to go somewhere else. It is really like a marriage. If you’re not treating your partner with a level of respect, they’re going to demand respect. If you don’t respect them, they ‘re gonna take their love somewhere else. It’s very disheartening to see my brothers and sisters saying, ‘I can’t take it anymore’.”

Councilmember Dave Gruber agrees. “The only thing I can tell the citizens of Aurora: if you want us to treat the police with respect, tell us then we will turn around and stop the things we are doing,” he said.

“Our crime rate is exploding. The numbers of murders we have, the numbers of assaults that we have across the board, crime statistics are far surpassing a year ago. The citizens of Aurora are going to turn around and say why is crime up so high and why aren’t police responding? The answer is going to be because we put such handcuffs on the police, they simply can’t. The citizens are going to say alright we need to fix this. We want to be protected. And oh by the way city council, the number one job you are elected to do was to protect us and you’re not doing a good job.”

Cernich specifically mentioned Councilmember Angela Lawson in his retirement letter. “I am very disappointed in Angela Lawson and her stance on these issues,” he said. “She actually came out and rode with me numerous times. During those rides we discussed race and even discussed racial profiling. As we rode around I would ask her to identify the drivers/occupants of the vehicle that passed us and she said she couldn’t identify them. I proved to her that traffic stops are made based on violations of the traffic code or criminal statutes and not race.”

She responded by sending us this statement:

“Trust in law enforcement is at an all time low and there is data out  there that show racial disparities in how policing is administered. The personal attacks on me, the only black women on Council demonstrates the problem and Lt. Cerinich comments are a shining example of the problem.  By pretending that racial disparities are not happening undermines the community trust in the department  Maybe instead of attacking me Lt. Cerinich should focus on some inward introspection on how he could have been a better officer.”

Cernich said by far, the highlight of his 25 year career in law enforcement was helping to organize the annual Shop with a Cop.

“We took 100 kids twice a year and shopped with them. That is one thing I will never forget was the sense of giving back to those kids and the happiness. And I had rules,” he said. “I made them buy a gift for somebody else in their family and wrap it and present it to them on Christmas so it wasn’t all about them. It was them learning to give. Some of them were buying pillows because they never had a pillow. By far, the best thing I ever done.”

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