AG report finds ‘pattern and practice of racially biased policing’ in Aurora

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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) – A new investigation by the Colorado Department of Law shows a pattern of racially biased policing and use of force in Aurora.

The report was released by Attorney General Phil Weiser Wednesday morning. Watch Weiser’s full press conference in the FOX31 NOW player at the bottom of this story.

“…the Aurora Police Department has a pattern and practice of violating state and federal law through racially biased policing, using excessive force, and failing to record legally required information when interacting with the community.”

“These actions are unacceptable, they hurt the people that law enforcement is entrusted to protect, and they destroy community trust,” Weiser said.

In addition to the officers’ actions in the field, Weiser touched on the department’s training and review of use-of-force incidents.

“Aurora does not create or oversee appropriate expectations for responsible behavior, which leads to the use of excessive force and the violation of civil rights of its residents,” his report said.

Racial disparities in policing

Investigators analyzing the data provided by Aurora discovered that the department was nearly 2.5 times more likely to use force against a person of color than a white person based on their percentage of the population.

Of the use of force reports reviewed, about half of them involved Black people, a group that only makes up 15% of the city’s population.

The department also interacted with all people of color 1.3 times more often than white people based on population percentage. Officers were two times more likely to interact with a Black person than a white person.

Weiser’s report said the Aurora Civil Service Commission undermines the chief’s authority when it overturns disciplinary actions. It also has failed to hire officers that reflect the city’s diversity, with only 1.1% of eligible Black applicants offered a job compared to 4.2% of eligible white applicants.

“This level of racial winnowing can be observed at every step of the process, suggesting bias in Aurora’s recruitment and hiring process,” the report said.

Aurora Fire’s use of ketamine

The report also touched on ketamine, a drug – that until recently – had been used to sedate people during arrests or other police altercations. Elijah McClain died several days after the drug was administered in Aurora and recently several first responders involved have been charged.

“The investigation team also found Aurora Fire had a pattern and practice of administering ketamine in violation of the law,” the report said.

Aurora Fire suspended its use of ketamine last September and department leaders said they do not plan to reinstate its use, but Weiser’s review still looked into its use prior to this.

Between January of 2019 and June of 2020, the department used ketamine 22 times. In more than half of these, according to the report, paramedics used doses that were too large and failed to follow proper protocols to monitor patients.

Changes to the departments moving forward

A bill enacted in 2020 by the Colorado Legislature allows the attorney general to investigate government agencies that repeatedly violate state or federal laws. It also allows the development of consent decrees designed as a multi-agency plan to fix problems discovered during these investigations.

The police and fire departments cooperated fully, Weiser said, allowing his team to ride along with them on patrols, attend review meetings for use of force and look through nearly 3,000 reports from the past five years.

In Weiser’s announcement Wednesday morning, he discussed plans for a consent decree between the state and Aurora that will develop new training procedures, hiring procedures and self-investigative processes. This is the first agreement of its kind at the state level.

Specific details of the consent decree will take time to iron out, but Weiser said similar agreements across the country have lasted at least five years.

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