Aurora Police Bias Training deadlines were missed, but mandated reforms remain on track

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An Aurora Police patch.

The Aurora Police Department is hitting more than half of the 78 mandates set out as part of the consent decree.

The Independent Consent Decree Monitor released its latest report on reforming public safety on Monday. It found that of the 78 individual agency mandates, 27 are in compliance and 19 were considered on the right track during this reporting period. Seven mandates are on what the report calls a “cautionary track,” and five of those involved missed deadlines for development and/or delivery of the Aurora Police Department’s Bias Training.

“The Monitor believes that the APD made substantial progress in the area and that the relevant mandates will be fulfilled in a reasonable amount of time.” the reports said. “The remaining mandates are on a cautionary track due to ongoing concerns the monitor has regarding APD’s data capabilities.”

Some of the trainings dealt with improving policies and training in contacts, arrests and uses of force, academy-based and in-service training in decision making and de-escalation, and recordkeeping requirements.

In September 2021, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced his office had investigated the Aurora Police and Fire Departments for more than a year, and found “a pattern and practice of racially biased policing.” 

The investigation was extensive: it involved data analysis, which showed that nearly half of the individuals whom Aurora Police used force against were Black, even though Black residents make up about 15 percent of the population in Aurora. Black people were also twice as likely to be arrested than white people.

In the weeks after, the city signed onto an agreement with the attorney general, called a consent decree. The city and state spelled out a series of specific reforms to hiring and training practices; policies around use of force; and more. The agreement, or decree, is scheduled to last five years. 

Monday’s report notes that the decree is at the two-year mark. 

Now, the consent decree is entering a new phase: The focus has been on writing new policies around using force, among other things. Now, the independent overseer will test whether Aurora Police and Fire are putting those policies into practice in interactions with the community.

In the sixth of 12 reports scheduled, both the trial for the officers and paramedics involved in the death of Elijah McClain and the sudden resignation of Interim Police Chief Art Acevedo. 

After the trials, the report said that APD and Aurora Fire Rescue’s “policies, training and systems of accountability were found to be significantly lacking. The City recognized that poor policies, poor training, and poor systems of accountability, not only created a huge financial risk to the City through civil litigation, but also put those police officers and firefighters serving the public at significantly greater risk of criminal liability.”

The report goes on to say that the reforms are directly aimed at preventing another death at the hands of first-responders like what happened to 23-year-old McClain,  the Black man who died after a violent encounter with police. One police officer, Randy Roedema and two paramedics, Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper convicted over the course of three trials last year.

Roedema was sentenced to 14 months in jail and four years probation in January. His attorneys have filed an appeal. Cichuniec was sentenced to five years in prison in March. Cooper’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 26.  

Acevedo, the former Miami and Houston Police Chief resigned in January after 13 months to spend more time with his family in Texas. Current Interim Police Chief Heather Morris is the department’s fourth Police chief since the creation of the consent decree. The report makes mention of the turnover.

“It is not unusual for departmental leadership changes to occur during the term of a Monitorship and, often, it is the Monitor that becomes the constant during the reform process,” the report said.

Previous reports by CPR’s Rachel Estabrook contributed to this report.