Law Enforcement

Vanessa Wilson Named Interim Aurora Police Chief

Vanessa Wilson will take over as interim chief.
Vanessa Wilson will take over as interim chief. 9News
Amid a wave of controversies involving its officers, planned retirements of top leadership and a strained relationship with residents, the Aurora Police Department has named its new interim police chief.

Today, December 30, Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly named Vanessa Wilson as head of the department for at least the next six months. Wilson is the first woman to lead the department.

"After assessing the current circumstances and the challenges the police department has faced, I believe Vanessa will provide the leadership and direction needed at this time," Twombly said at a press conference at the Aurora Municipal Center today.

Wilson will step into the role on January 1, when Chief Nick Metz, who has been in charge of the department since 2015, officially retires. She has worked with the Aurora Police Department for close to 25 years, including serving as division chief, the first woman to earn that rank in the department. She said during the press conference that she plans to apply to become permanent chief. APD hopes to name a new chief by mid-2020.

Deputy Chief Paul O'Keefe had been in line to become interim chief, but he withdrew his candidacy and announced he would retire after news reports named him as one of the first officers to respond to Nate Meier, a fellow officer who was found unresponsive in his police vehicle.

Officers had to break the window of Meier's car to get him out but decided against launching a DUI investigation, even though they reportedly smelled alcohol. Meier, who was demoted but is still employed by the Aurora Police Department, later admitted that he had been drunk at the time.

"Let's be honest, I'm stepping in at a very turbulent time. I acknowledge that the community is angry. Their trust has been shaken and our relationship has been fractured. I promise you today that we will work tirelessly to regain that trust because, I will state, no one is above the law. And you expect professionalism from this police department, and that is what we will deliver," Wilson said, adding, "There should not be a blanket condemnation of this agency."

Wilson spoke about community perception of the department being affected by the in-custody death of Elijah McClain, who died in August not long after Aurora police officers forcefully detained the 23-year-old even though he hadn't done anything illegal. In November, District Attorney Dave Young announced that he wouldn't prosecute the officers involved in the incident.

As officers were detaining McClain, their body cameras fell off. Wilson said the department is working on implementing new technology in coming weeks to ensure that doesn't happen again.

Twombly announced that the city's recruitment of a new chief will take between six and eight months and will involve "robust community input, discussion and outreach, and hearing from the rank and file officers within the police department."

In the meantime, city officials will pursue different options to law enforcement oversight. Nicole Johnston, a Democratic member of Aurora City Council, is leading the effort to create a civilian-led law enforcement oversight agency.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.