Aurora police shake-up: Why have hiring practices triggered a federal investigation?

Something fishy appears to be going down in the Aurora Police Department.

As Face the State's Jared Jacang Maher reported yesterday, the Department of Justice is investigating the police force, apparently because of its recruitment practices.

According to Maher, federal investigators sat down with Aurora city attorneys regarding police recruiting procedures and told them, "If you are currently doing something that has resulted in us being here, it would be reasonable to re-evaluate what you have been doing."

What's the nature of the investigation? That's hard to say -- since apparently not even Aurora officials know exactly what's going on. Maher noted that at a contentious and lengthy meeting of the city's Civil Service Commission on Tuesday, David Powell, an attorney with the powerful Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck law firm that's been retained by Aurora to handle the case, told commission members, "...we don't know everything that they're looking at, but we have to be proactive and examine that situation."

The investigation may be related to minority hires. As commissioner Bernard Celestin said at the meeting, "You know, if it's blacks, if it's Hispanics, if it's whatever, if it's background, put our finger dead on the problem and get everyone's attention."

It wouldn't be the first time Aurora police have grappled with race problems; claims of racial profiling and harassment have rocked the department in recent years.

To deal with the problem, Aurora officials are apparently rethinking how the police should handle new hires. The commission proposed outsourcing background investigations for job applicants, a move that had Police Chief Daniel Oates none too pleased.

"No one on the commission, or in the City Attorney's office, no one in city government has come to the police department and said, 'There are these reasons why we are considering a change, there are these criticisms, these things to work on," Oates said at the meeting. "I'm shocked that you would consider making such a fundamental change without serious study and discussion."