Outgoing Aurora police chief reflects on his time at the department

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Photo: Police Chief Daniel OatesIf Coloradans have heard of Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates, it's likely because they remember his somber, steady presence from press conferences after the 2012 attack on the Century 16 movie theater.

Those difficult days catapulted Oates into the national spotlight, but they were only one moment in his long and varied tenure with the city. Chief Oates left his post in Aurora Friday, moving on to the top cop position in Miami Beach, Florida.

Before leaving his position, Oates sat down with CPR's Colorado Matters to reflect on his time with the force. Here are some highlights from that conversation.

On the ways that police and first responder training have changed since the Century 16 attack:

"We've trained up nearly all our officers -- we have a few more to go through -- a ten-hour training course in tactical combat care. It's a program done with Denver Health that's been designed to take the best lessons from the past thirteen years and apply it to local law enforcement. And it's essentially aggressive, stop-the-bleeding training, with dummies that squirt blood and how to apply tourniquets and those kinds of things... The other really big step is that the Aurora police and fire departments have come up with a... High Risk Extraction Protocol to be more efficient and faster at getting the seriously injured out of what we call a 'warm zone.' It may not be completely safe, but we think it's safe enough to bring firefighters, paramedics in under escort by police to an area where people in a mass casualty situation are injured and get them out and get them to urgent medical care."

On how policing now is different from the past:

"We've had to adapt as technology has adapted. When I became a cop 33-something years ago, there was no such thing as social media. Well today our cops access social media to solve crimes on the spot in their patrol cars... We've had information on a suspect who might have committed a crime and we've got a cop going online and pulling up a guy's Facebook page and making an ID at two in the morning. Stuff that we never used to be able to do."

On efforts to improve the relationship between the Aurora Police Department and the city's refugee population:

"Typically refugees come from countries where the police are the oppressors. And so they come from that culture and environment to a world where we have a very different role in our society and they don't understand it... We needed to do more to connect with those populations and teach them that we're the good guys... We set up a program that we loosely call "multicultural neighborhood watch." It's absolutely phenomenal. What we do is we essentially give, I don't know how else to describe it, basic civics lessons to these folks about their rights in our free society."

On comments from the head of the officers union that morale on the force as "pretty bad":

"I don't think they really believe that quote. That was on the evening of a session of bargaining that has just been completed. And that's after a couple of rounds of zero or one-percent pay increases where we slipped in our place in the market. And I think that that's just a bit of public posturing. I think the morale here has actually been very, very good in my tenure here. And folks are extraordinarily proud of this organization."

On what he's leaving undone in Aurora:

"There are about 10 major projects here that I'm really invested in that are underway. I want to believe that that's a sign that I'm leaving the organization with more work to do and more challenges. We're doing some really exciting stuff in north Aurora around at-risk youth: gang involvement, finding alternatives with intervention and prevention for at-risk youth. We know well we can't arrest our way out of the gang problem... We continue to explore technology options to reduce crime and smart deployment of things like cameras at critical areas, license plate readers, those kinds of thing. We're going to introduce an e-ticketing program that will make our cops smarter faster, more accurate in issuing tickets. The list goes on and on. So I think it's exciting some of the stuff we're doing. And I think whoever comes in here, the new chief, he or she will have their hands full."