Leaders react to AG report finding racist police practices, illegal ketamine use, in Aurora

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DENVER (KDVR) — Following the release of a state report that found a “pattern and practice” of “racially biased policing” and excessive force in Aurora, city leaders said they were committed to continuing reforms that were started more than a year ago.

On the report’s release, Attorney General Phil Weiser said “our objective is to develop a consent decree that will enable Aurora to improve and build trust in law enforcement. That is what the community needs and deserves.”

What the AG says about the report

In the report released Wednesday morning, Weiser found “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.”

“We are thankful and grateful the leaders of the city of Aurora, Aurora Police and Fire Rescue have shown and stated a commitment to seize this opportunity to build community trust in law enforcement,” Weiser said.

The Problem Solvers asked Weiser how this consent decree will help make Aurora safer.

“We believe this consent decree can elevate policing, elevate trust in law enforcement and thus actually make law enforcement more effective, thereby able to reduce crime, better recruit law enforcement, and operate in a way to serve the community in a way we believe law enforcement officers want to be able to do,” Weiser said.

Weiser said this is going to take some time to develop and implement and that it will take community engagement. City leaders say they are confident the city will come to an agreement to make meaningful changes.

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson’s statement

“We remain committed to cooperation and seeking solutions which keep the best interests of our community and public servants at the forefront.

“In the coming weeks, we will work with the Attorney General’s Office to determine how to implement necessary and sustainable changes. The final consent decree will serve as another resource in our path forward.

“Today is incredibly difficult for not only the Aurora community but this agency. We acknowledge there are changes to be made. We will not broad brush this agency or discount the professionalism and integrity that individual officers bring to our community every day. I am proud to say the Aurora Police Department began the implementation of many changes over the last 21 months, while this and other investigations were ongoing. Those changes have improved overall policing, de-escalation training, community outreach and engagement. I have and continue to hold officers accountable as evidenced by my recent disciplinary actions, which are supported by many officers in the department who are proud to wear our badge.

“The report acknowledges the dedicated work we have already achieved and are committed to seeing through. I consider this report as one facet of a comprehensive effort to provide the highest quality police officers and level of service to our community in Aurora,” Wilson said in a statement.

Aurora Fire Chief Fernando Gray’s statement

“Aurora Fire Rescue committed to fully cooperating with the Attorney General’s Office during their review. This included providing access to our individual firefighters, crews and any and all EMS report data that was requested. The primary issue identified by the Attorney General for our department was related to the use of ketamine. Although this medication was removed from our system more than a year ago and we have no plans to reintroduce this medication into our system, we find value in the report.

“Before the investigation was completed, our department had already taken myriad steps to enhance our service delivery such as extending the quality improvement/review process, improving our patient care documentation capabilities, and modifying the medical protocols to provide additional clarity between police and fire on medical interventions, which ultimately addressed many of the concerns which were brought forward in the report.

“Our mission is to provide the best service possible, and we are confident that following national best practices in EMS, updating our medical protocols for therapy every six months, developing relevant data-based training and continuing to enhance our physician-led extensive quality assurance/quality improvement reviews of our responses will lead to great outcomes for the community,” Gray said in a statement.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman’s statement

“Today the Attorney General released the findings of his team’s investigation in Aurora Police and Fire. Most of the findings are not new and our Chiefs of Police and Fire Rescue have been working hard for over a year to address many of them. I’m confident that the issues raised in the Attorney General’s report, along with the other outside investigations commissioned by our city, will be corrected and that we will achieve an outcome that respects the rights of everyone who lives and works in our diverse community,” Coffman said in a tweet.

Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly’s statement

“The city of Aurora staff and leadership are committed to the systemic change that is already underway in Aurora. We started that work more than a year ago. We will not waver from our deep commitment to a ‘New Way’ of policing, ensuring public safety and serving our diverse, culturally rich community in Aurora. We are also committed to supporting our officers and firefighters. We, as a community, must support them as they continue to bravely protect our city and as we ask them to meet the expectations of transparency and reform.

“I am still digesting the details of the Attorney General’s report, and it is painful to hear. It would be premature for me to comment on any specific findings at this time; however, the findings appear to align with the findings and recommendations presented from independent reviews the city commissioned more than a year ago, prior to the Attorney General’s review, and presented over the past several months – from Jonathan Smith and his team, 21CP Solutions and the Community Police Task Force. Each recommendation and finding is valuable in helping us strengthen the ‘New Way’ of policing – and serving our community – that we are already implementing.

“I thank the Attorney General’s Office team for their thorough and thoughtful work. I greatly value our continued cooperation with them. We will work with them to assure the changes we have already made, and will continue to make, are in alignment with their report,” Twombly said in a statement.

Statement from Aurora City Council Member Dave Gruber, chair of the public safety committee

Gruber sent FOX31 a statement that said, in part:

“I support the recommendation of the Attorney General to implement a consent decree to improve our public safety practices in our police and fire departments. While under his operation of Aurora’s public safety infrastructure, the Attorney General must take responsibility to reduce the crime rate and the dramatic drop in officer retention.”

The latest statistics show violent crime in Aurora is up 13% year to date. Major property crime is up 28%. At the same time, there’s been a 12% drop in personnel last year and again this year.

“My goal as a city councilman of Aurora is to have the finest police and fire departments in the country. The city had chartered two other professional organizations to analyze the city’s handling of the Elijah McClain case and our police practices in general. Based on those reports, city management began aggressive actions to deal with the identified deficiencies and make improvements across the board. The Attorney General’s report affirmed many of the findings previously identified and now being addressed by the city. Crime is dramatically increasing in Aurora, while arrests are falling. One reason for the decrease in arrests is the precipitous drop in sworn officer retention. We have lost 89 officers so far this year, 87 last year and nearly 230 total over the last three years. Nearly 1/3 of our 744 sworn officers have left the force,” Gruber wrote.

Aurora delegation in the Colorado General Assembly releases joint statement

Colorado state legislators, including Sens. Rhonda Fields and Janet Buckner and Reps. Dominique Jackson, Naquetta Ricks, Iman Jodeh, Mike Weissman and Dafna Michaelson Jenet released this joint statement:

“Today’s report is a glaring picture of how the Aurora Police Department operates, and gives us a full understanding of the gaps that must be filled in order to protect vulnerable families from racist, violent and inhumane police practices within the Department.

“Thanks to our efforts in 2020 to pass a landmark police reform bill here in Colorado, instances of police violence, prejudice and bad behavior can no longer be swept under the rug. We will no longer tolerate bad actors going unchecked and this report, though disturbing, serves as a path toward dismantling systemic racism and bias within an institution that has lost the trust of our communities.

“We are incredibly grateful for Attorney General Weiser’s commitment to addressing this ongoing issue in our state and commend him for the work he and his team have put in to come to this conclusion. We remain committed to our collective goal of reforming the way we police in Colorado, advancing racial justice within our communities and working toward a system that is fair and just, one that truly values Black and Brown lives – and having the attorney general and Aurora enter a consent decree agreement is another step toward that goal.”

Statement from U.S. Rep Jason Crow, D-Aurora

“Today’s findings laid bare what many in our community know too well: that people of color are often treated differently by law enforcement and subject to abuse. I commend the Colorado Attorney General’s office for conducting a thorough investigation.

“Today is another step on the march to a more just, equitable and transparent law enforcement system for our community, but there is much work to do. It’s now time for the City of Aurora and law enforcement leaders to engage with the Attorney General and start the process of correcting the issues identified in this investigation. I will continue to fight for comprehensive reform at the federal level to restore trust and accountability between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” Crow said in a statement.

Statement from Colorado state Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver

“The findings from the attorney general’s investigation of racism in policing in Aurora are incredibly disturbing. However, for those of us who have been working on anti-racism in public policy and accountability for law enforcement, they are sadly not surprising.

“The activists and family members of those who have been hurt and killed have worked tirelessly for years, raising their voices to explain that Aurora has a pattern and history of racist policing, specifically targeting Black people. This independent investigation has finally vindicated them.

“Colorado has led the way on bold legislative action on police accountability after last summer’s racial justice protests. These findings demonstrate the need for those policy changes, but there is still so much work left to do to keep our communities safe in Colorado,” Herod said in a statement.

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