AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) – The City of Aurora, under pressure to make changes at its police and fire departments, has come to an agreement with Colorado’s Department of Law, outlining how the major changes will be implemented.
The changes come after the attorney general’s office found a pattern and practice of civil rights issues at the police department and the improper use of a sedative at the fire department. The city council will need to officially approve the consent decree at its next meeting for it to take effect.
“I know this has been 23 months of pain. Twenty-three months of difficult conversations. Twenty-three months of change and reform,” said Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson.
“We’re not going to shy away from reform, and I can tell you the officers out on the street are doing it with duty, honor, integrity and realizing there will be accountability,” said Wilson.
Aurora city leaders had 60 days starting on Sept. 15 to work with the department of law to develop an agreement that would lead to the implementation of specific changes and independent oversight at the city.
With no agreement, the attorney general could have pursued court-ordered remedies to affect change, but the state and the city announced they had come to an agreement during a press conference Tuesday.
“This consent decree will elevate policing and improve public safety in the City of Aurora. The hard work ahead will be to build trust in law enforcement, operate with a spirit of continuous improvement, and protect public safety using legal and just means,” said Attorney General Phil Weiser.
“Working together, we can protect public safety and civil rights by working with law enforcement to improve how it operates in Aurora. As the city does this important work, our department will support it and do all we can to ensure that it succeeds in delivering on its commitments,” he said.
Changes for the Aurora Police Department
Under the agreement, the City of Aurora will work with an independent consent decree monitor to develop and implement new policies and procedures to address problems outlined by the department of law.
The monitor, who has not yet been hired, could be an individual or a group of people. According to Jim, Twombly, the city manager, the consent decree independent monitor could cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars per year over the course of the agreement. The city will also foot the bill for other changes that must be implemented.
The agreement requires Aurora to meet specific milestones and provide public updates on the progress it has made.
Strategies outlined in the consent decree will work to improve use-of-force policies and training, enhance data collection and change hiring practices to ensure the city’s diversity is reflected on the staff.
For example, the agreement says the “City shall change, in measurable ways, how Aurora Police engages with all members of the community, including by reducing any racial disparities in how Aurora Police engages, arrests and uses force in the community.”
The agreement also calls for improvement on policies and training related to officer stops, arrests, and critical decision-making.
“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 agreement says.
The City of Aurora said it is already working with a team from the Massachusetts-based Crime and Justice Institute to help revise use-of-force policies and it continues to make changes to its force review board, which examines and reviews an officer’s use of force for possible discipline.
“Ms. McClain is hopeful that the groundbreaking consent decree will bring badly needed reform to this troubled police department and that other parents will not have to mourn the death of their sons and daughters caused by police violence,” an attorney for Elijah McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, said in a statement.
Changes for Aurora Fire Rescue
The agreement also outlines conditions for Aurora Fire Rescue, should the department be permitted to reinstate the use of ketamine to sedate agitated people outside of a hospital setting. The practice was suspended by the city in September 2020 and suspended for all other agencies, by the state, in July 2021 after various cases around the state– linked to questionable use, hospitalizations, or rarely, death – were brought to light, and a new law took effect, limiting the drug’s use.
The attorney general’s initial evaluation of AFR following the death of Elijah McClain found the department had a pattern of inappropriately administering the drug.
“If the City seeks to use ketamine in the field during the time that any part of this Consent Decree remains in effect, the Consent Decree Monitor will first review the medical protocol for the use of ketamine,” the agreement says.
According to Fernando Gray, the Aurora Fire Rescue Chief, the department has no plans to re-introduce ketamine at the department. Currently, medics have been relying on another drug, Versed, in cases in which ketamine might have been used.
Gray said the department has also developed a new records management process that is will help staff evaluate whether paramedics have been adversely affected by not having access to ketamine.
Aurora denies claims made by attorney general’s office
According to the consent decree, signed by attorneys for the City of Aurora and on behalf of the state’s Department of Law, the City of Aurora denies the claims made by the Department of Law in its review of the Aurora Police Department and Aurora Fire Rescue.
The city “does not admit liability for any of the allegations made in the complaint,” the agreement says.
“However, because the City is committed to continuous improvement in the delivery of public safety services, and to avoid protracted and expensive litigation, the City negotiated with the Attorney General to develop this Consent Decree that the parties believe is fair, reasonable, and in the public interest.”
How long does Aurora’s consent decree last?
According to the agreement released Tuesday, the consent decree could last up to five years.
Aurora will spend “up to two years changing its operations and training to meet the requirements.” The city will also have three years “confirming compliance through monitoring, measurement, and making additional adjustments.”