Aurora Police revamp special team to target violent crimes

Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite
An Aurora police cruiser outside the Town Center at Aurora mall on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019.

As Aurora struggles with a growing crime rate and upheaval in police ranks the Aurora Police Department relaunched a team last month that will focus on violent crime in the city.

The team is called DART — Direct Action Response Team. It was first launched about four decades ago but was shut down in 2016 when the department went through internal changes.

“Our goals at the Aurora Police Department are to reduce crime and the fear of crime, partner with the community to identify and solve problems and to operate the agency with efficiency and integrity,” Aurora Police Sgt. Faith Goodrich said via email. “We believe relaunching our Direct Action Response Team will help us achieve these goals by decreasing violent crime through data-driven analysis.”

The agency has been in turmoil after ex-chief Vanessa Wilson’s ousting and fallout from the high-profile death of Elijah McClain in 2019.

Interim Police Chief Daniel Oates previously said the department had plans to create a proactive crime unit — the revamping of DART is a start, according to Goodrich.

Violent crime in Aurora spiked by about 30 percent in the first quarter of this year from the same time last year. Last November, 16 teenagers were shot in 20 days, and there were 45 homicides in Aurora, according to the police department.

For nearly two weeks, DART has worked the street and has made 17 felony arrests and  27 misdemeanor arrests. According to police, six juveniles have been detained, 21 stolen cars have been recovered, four guns have been seized, and there have been six instances of use of force.

An undisclosed number of Aurora police officers were selected for DART in early July, Goodrich said. Team members participated in a two-week training that began July 12. The department is currently down about 50 officers and only has 12 community officers.

“The training included refreshers on tactics they may use and a review of legal concepts,” Goodrich added. “They have also met with community groups to build relationships and hear concerns.” 

DART will focus its efforts using data about high-crime areas or specific people who are committing crimes. Officers were chosen following a competitive selection process that included reviews of previous evaluations and an interview process, she said.

Oates said one of the most important things he can accomplish as chief is stabilizing the police department. In addition to targeting violent crime, he said his priorities also include reassuring officers, building bridges in the community and ensuring the effective hiring of a new chief. Oates became interim chief in May and plans to remain in the position for about six months.

Last year, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office ordered a consent decree that came out of an investigation into the police department due to the McClain case. It will change use of force rules, disciplinary procedures and transparency and reporting requirements around police stops.