AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Aurora Police exit surveys suggest morale for many departing officers was poor with several pointing the finger at city council members, the city manager and especially Chief Vanessa Wilson.
The Problem Solvers, through a public records request, obtained every exit survey filled out since January of 2020 when Wilson was appointed interim chief. She officially became the police chief in August of 2020.
Over a span of two years and three months, 232 officers left the department. Fifteen officers were terminated, 105 resigned, 104 retired and eight transferred to another agency within the city of Aurora.
Of the 217 employees who left on their own accord, 85 (or about 40%) agreed to fill out an electronic anonymous survey that each person received via email.
Some of the survey responses were harsh on everyone involved in the city government. One read, “The absolute lack of support and outright hatred of the police department by the city council. The terrible leadership by the city manager as well as lack of support. The terrible leadership of the police department from the new chief and the few select people she chooses to rely on to make decisions. All of these factors was my determination for leaving.”
And another respondent simply wrote, “Quit letting politics and city council run the Police Department.”
Most of the former employees who decided to fill out the 17 question survey did not name names but those who did were often critical of Wilson.
Comments from surveys mentioning Chief Wilson
“The Chief was never seen. Even when we had zoom meetings she was not there.”
“The poor leadership continues with the Chief of Police who makes her intentions with the direction of the department known via Media releases and not direct emails to the officers she’s in charge of and telling those officers to go do their dangerous jobs while hiding at home because she received ‘threats.'”
“Chief Wilson has not shown that she is qualified to lead this department, she makes rash and emotional decisions that impact the entire organization for the sole purpose of making herself look good in the eyes of the City Council and the Denver media.”
“Vanessa Wilson is a horrible leader, who scapes (sp) goat officers to make herself look good. Not only does she sacrifice officers, but we have inhuman cold hearted city council members that support this disgusting leadership.”
“Officer safety is at an all time low with the morale even lower! Overtime money is great to make but the department is truly creating a huge mental health disaster amongst all ranks.”
“Number one, the chief. She’s a hypocrite. Like she has never done wrong. It just hasn’t been exposed.”
What Wilson’s attorney says about the disdain
In late March FOX31 reported the city manager asked Wilson to resign and she refused.
Wilson’s attorney Paula Greisen told FOX31 Wilson didn’t know the surveys existed until the Problem Solvers made a public records request. A city spokesperson told FOX31 city manager Jim Twombly had never read the surveys until after becoming aware they had been released to the Problem Solvers.
“Look, she was hired to do an unpopular job and when you make systemic changes it’s not going to win you popularity contests,” Greisen said, who insisted there was nothing remarkable about the exit surveys.
To be fair, not all of the feedback was negative. One person who retired just before Wilson was officially appointed to the job wrote in July of 2020, “Interim Chief Vanessa Wilson, is doing above and beyond the call of duty.”
But overall the surveys suggest morale was low at a time turnover was really high.
Among the remarks critical of police leadership was, “The cronyism and nepotism in the department has become unbearable… If you aren’t under the umbrella of the Chief or her henchman, you will never get promoted.”
Another wrote, “The chief is willing to side with a citizen that complained about their officer experience rather than the officer and the appointed force review board findings.”
And yet another officer wrote, “My decision to retire prior to my original plan came to be because I choose to no longer work in an environment where my profession is constantly trashed and not supported by the top leaders of this organization.”
Since Wilson took over in January of 2020, one-fourth of her staff (out of a budget department of 744 officers and 166 professional staff) have left and retirements tripled compared to the year before she took over.
“That’s not a problem that’s unique to Aurora in any way,” Wilson’s attorney said.
She points out police nationwide have been leaving the profession for a variety of reasons, including new police accountability measures and COVID.
“That’s not a problem that Chief Wilson created and it’s not something that she should be blamed for,” Greisen said.