Law Enforcement

Are There 27 Bad Apples in the Aurora Police Department?

The Aurora Police Department's quick action following the brutal late-July beating of Kyle Vinson — damning body-camera video was released within days, and now-ex-officers John Haubert and Francine Martinez were arrested on a variety of charges ranging from assault to violating incident-reporting protocols — represented a stark contrast to its typical delay-and-deny approach regarding claims of excessive force, often against people of color.

Maybe that's because APD administrators knew the hammer was about to come down.

On August 16, a report from 21CP Solutions commissioned by Aurora (at a reported cost of $376,000) following community outrage over the 2019 death of Elijah McClain was presented to Aurora City Council members — and it's an astonishing document. Over 161 pages, 21CP Solutions absolutely eviscerates the way Aurora has policed its citizens, with a particular focus on a small handful of law enforcement officers who have apparently been allowed to run roughshod over members of the public.

One section of the report reads: "Although 328 unique officers used some level of force in 2020, a small number of APD officers appear to apply a disproportionate amount of force. Specifically, 27 APD officers, which is about 8 percent of the total number of officers who used force and 3.5 percent of officers overall, were responsible for nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of all applications of force in 2020."

That's not all. The report also establishes that the APD has disproportionately brutalized Black men.

Another excerpt: "Black men were represented among force subjects at a rate significantly higher than their share of Aurora’s population. Specifically, Black men were the subject of 29 percent of force incidents even as they make up 9 percent of Aurora’s population. White men were also represented among force subjects at a rate somewhat lower than their population, with white men the subject of 23 percent of force incidents even as they are 31 percent of the population."

Here's a graphic breaking down 2020 use-of-force incidents in Aurora by ethnicity.
The faults with the APD don't end there, according to 21CP, and much of the report is filled with recommendations on how to improve the Aurora force. There are 47 in all, and because several include subsections or bullet points, the total could easily have been higher. The concerns about current policies, procedures, investigative techniques, diversity and plenty of other issues are so all-encompassing that they suggest Aurora should essentially be building a new police department from scratch — one that is fairer, more just and less likely to respond to suspects differently depending on the hue of their skin.

Here are the 47 recommendations, followed by a link to the complete report.

Recommendation 1. APD’s use of force policies should be substantially revised to provide better, more specific guidance to officers on when force may and may not be used.

Recommendation 2. APD should ensure that it provides regular training to all personnel on force decision-making and de-escalation strategies. As with APD’s training overall, this training should include dynamic, integrated, skills-focused, and scenario-based training grounded in adult learning techniques.

Recommendation 3. APD policy should better outline what officers must describe and articulate in narratives regarding the use of force.

Recommendation 4. APD should ensure that use of force reporting is standardized and uniform with respect to aggregate data.

Recommendation 5. APD policy should outline more specific procedures and guidelines for the conduct of post-force investigation and review.

Recommendation 6. APD should update its policies and procedures for its Force Review Board to ensure objective, fair, timely, and comprehensive review and adjudication of use of force incidents.

Recommendation 7. APD should substantially revise and expand its current policy Directives Manual to address, in detail, the conduct of stops, detentions, searches, and arrests.

Recommendation 8. APD should provide personnel with detailed, dynamic, and scenario-based training on consensual interactions and non-consensual encounters between police and members of the public — including stops, detentions, searches, and arrests.

Recommendation 9. APD should require officers to document, and provide specific information about, all interactions with the public that are not voluntary.

Recommendation 10. To enhance officer safety, expand the quality of supervision, and provide meaningful opportunities for the department to understand its overall performance, APD policy should articulate clear requirements for supervisory review and aggregate analysis of overall trends regarding stops, searches, and arrests.

Recommendation 11. APD should revise its current policy on bias (Directive 08.32, “Biased Based Policing”) to provide more specific and detailed guidance to officers.

Recommendation 12. APD should provide training to officers about revisions to its policies relating to bias, the histories and experiences of Aurora’s diverse communities, and cross-cultural communication.

Recommendation 13. APD policy should require the regular, independent analysis of data on officer and aggregate departmental performance to determine if any of its activities, programs, or enforcement approaches are having a disproportionate impact on specific groups, communities, or types of individuals.

Recommendation 14. APD should make information about complaints relating to bias, profiling, and discrimination available on its website, along with information about the adjudication of investigations of such complaints.

Recommendation 15. APD and the City of Aurora should either recommit to the full implementation of its current CIT model or consider implementing alternative response mechanisms to individuals experiencing mental health and behavioral crises.

Recommendation 16. Aurora should ensure that the Community Policing Task Force, or the like, serves as a permanent, standing body going forward that leads the City in creating a new, shared vision of public safety in Aurora. Among other primary tasks, it should be responsible for helping to facilitate, with input from Aurora’s diverse stakeholders and communities:

• A definition of public safety in Aurora that defines the roles and responsibilities of the Police Department and the roles and responsibilities of other government and City stakeholders with respect to community safety and well-being;
• The creation and maintenance of a Community Safety Plan geared toward translating Aurora’s vision of public safety into operational milestones, deliverables, and deadlines;
• Convene regular listening sessions that incorporate relevant subject matter expert testimony, as appropriate, to assist in the collaborative planning necessary to establish a Community Safety Plan; and
• Coordinate across Aurora’s many government and institutional stakeholders on issues relating to public safety.

Recommendation 17. To the extent that the Police Area Representatives (“PAR”) Unit and Community Relations Section remain core elements of its community engagement strategy, APD should endeavor to enhance the quality and impact of the Units.

Recommendation 18. The City of Aurora should undertake a study on homelessness to gauge the current impact of various outreach mechanisms across all relevant city agencies and stakeholders and explore innovative problem-solving regarding individuals experiencing housing instability.

Recommendation 19. The APD should ensure that its directives reflect the recent changes in the organization structure that became effective in 2020 and 2021.

Recommendation 20. The crime analysis function should have a lead or supervisory analyst to provide supervision to analysts and coordinate efforts, training and quality control.

Recommendation 21. APD should consider hiring a full-time video specialist for the Chief’s office and another for the Training Academy to meet the coming demands of SB217 and the necessity of the Training Academy to have a more readily accessible video specialist.

Recommendation 22. APD should create, in partnership with other relevant City stakeholders and the Aurora community, a Deployment and Staffing Plan that might enhance APD’s responsiveness to community needs.

Recommendation 22.1. APD should systematically inventory previous recommendations and consider, in collaboration with other City stakeholders and community members, potential new changes to improve the call response that can promote better, more effective, more efficient, and more equitable responses to calls not relating to violent crime.

Recommendation 22.2. APD should collaborate with City stakeholders and the Aurora community to identify and implement outstanding recommendations in the Redistricting Study and Staffing Study.

Recommendation 22.3. APD should conduct a comprehensive organizational review which examines each unit and assignment, its purpose, workload and outcome to ensure that the patrol function is adequately staffed to respond to calls for service and work with the community.

Recommendation 22.4. APD should continue to ensure that a lieutenant is working on every patrol shift and working the same shift schedule as other patrol personnel.

Recommendation 23. APD should consider non-sworn and external applicants to fill command staff vacancies.

Recommendation 24. APD should develop, and codify in policy, a more formal process for selecting Commanders and Division Chiefs. The process should consider including external interview panels (police executives and community members).

Recommendation 25. The APD should implement a leadership and professional development program for command staff.

Recommendation 26. APD command staff should develop and implement a plan to increase their level of visibility throughout the department. This should include an internal communications plan aimed at ensuring that department employees are kept informed on important issues.

Recommendation 27. APD and the City of Aurora must commit to expanding the diversity of APD so that it reflects the backgrounds and lived experiences of Aurora’s various communities.

Recommendation 28. The City and APD should invest more of its resources on recruitment efforts.

Recommendation 29. The Civil Service Commission (“CSC”) should conduct a review of current hiring criteria to determine their impact in terms of attracting and hiring candidates of varying races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, socio-economic backgrounds, experiences, and characteristics. The Commission should identify what changes might be made to enhance APD’s diversity.

Recommendation 30. APD should consider leveraging its lateral hiring program and civilianization efforts to enrich the diversity in the department.

Recommendation 31. APD should ensure that all members work together toward increasing the diversity of the department.

Recommendation 32. APD should overhaul its general approach to training and professional development to focus on integrated, scenario-based training that uses adult learning techniques and focuses on providing opportunities for officers to practice and cultivate real-world skills.

Recommendation 33. APD and the City should ensure that APD’s training function has sufficient access to training management platforms and training resources that can promote effective, ongoing officer training and professional development.

Recommendation 34. APD needs to establish a comprehensive professional development program for both officers and civilian staff that takes full advantage of both in-house and external resources. Training priorities and needs should be identified in a Professional Development Program Plan that the Department updates regularly with specific objectives, training programs, milestones, and deadlines.

Recommendation 35. APD should take steps to ensure FTOs are representative of the diversity of the department and community.

Recommendation 36. The Field Training Standard Operating Procedure should be updated to reflect changes made in 2020 to the FTO selection process and enhanced to provide more specific guidance on the overall program, the process by which APD members qualify and are selected to be FTOs, how the program proceeds, and how FTOs are evaluated.

Recommendation 37. The APD should re-evaluate its FTO evaluation process to ensure consistency and effectiveness.

Recommendation 38. The Peer Support Team should consist of officers who reflect diverse backgrounds.

Recommendation 39. The APD should evaluate and analyze its current threshold-based, risk analysis early intervention system (“EIS”) and make changes to enhance its effectiveness. APD should make changes in policy, procedure, practice, and technology infrastructure to permit the implementation of an enhanced EIS.

Recommendation 40. APD should work in collaboration with community, city administration (including City Human Resources), police officer organizations, and the Civil Service Commission to re-align the entire system of handling complaints, investigations, and disciplinary decisions to comport with the principles of procedural justice and to ensure the fair, objective, thorough, and timely investigation of all allegations of potential officer misconduct. Consistent with these objectives and as part of this process, APD should re-draft and replace its current directives, and/or related policy and manual guidance, on administrative investigations, complaint investigations, Internal Affairs investigations, and any other investigations relating to officer misconduct.

Recommendation 41. The City of Aurora should examine its Civil Service Commission to ensure hiring and disciplinary decisions that are fair, efficient, timely, equitable, and consistent with the mission and goals of the City, APD, and community.

Recommendation 42. APD, in consultation with the community it serves, should develop processes and protocols – with standard timelines — by which information and details related to critical incidents are released in a timely and transparent manner.

Recommendation 43. APD should collaborate actively with the community in the development and revision of its policies, procedures, and training.

Recommendation 44. The City of Aurora should move expeditiously to select an individual responsible for independently monitoring and auditing APD’s adherence to, and the efficacy of, the Department’s policies, disciplinary processes, and performance appraisal outcomes.

Recommendation 45. APD should develop a three-to-five-year Technology Plan that identifies technology-related priorities; provides clear deadlines, milestones, and deliverables relating to technology implementation; and identifies structural and process changes for the selection, implementation, maintenance, and oversight of technological systems and tools.

Recommendation 46. APD should purchase, issue, and maintain all firearms. An assessment should be conducted to determine if there are other less-lethal devices that should be purchased as well.

Recommendation 47. The City should conduct a facilities and equipment review to ensure that APD officers continue to have the tools that they need to address community needs and problems.

Click to read the "Recommendations for the Aurora Police Department" report.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts