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Aurora Police Department Has 'Pattern Of Racially-Biased Policing,' Colorado Attorney General Investigation Reveals

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) — An investigation team appointed by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser found the Aurora Police Department has a history of racially biased policing and found Aurora police and fire departments have a pattern of violating federal and state laws.

Aurora Police Badge Generic
(credit: CBS)

In a summary of the report obtained by CBS4's Dillon Thomas, the investigative team found "Aurora Police has a pattern and practice if racially biased policing, using excessive force, and gaining to record required information when it interacts with the community."

The report went on to read, "Aurora Fire has engaged in a pattern and practice of administering ketamine in violation of the law."

The investigation, which lasted 14 months, stemmed from the controversial arrest of Elijah McClain. McClain died in 2019 after an altercation with Aurora police and medics with Aurora Fire Rescue. He had not committed a crime, yet was taken to the ground and injected with a potentially lethal dose of Ketamine.

Elijah McClain
(credit: CBS)

McClain died days later in a local hospital.

Investigators appointed by Weiser spent over 220 hours doing in-person ride alongs with officers and firefighters. The report said the team compiled over 3 million records from the City of Aurora. They reviewed body camera footage and combed through more than 2,800 reports from the past five years.

"Over the course of our investigation, we saw consistent patterns in unlawful behavior by Aurora Police and Aurora Fire."

The investigators found "statistically significant racial disparities — especially with respect to Black individuals — in nearly every important type of police contact with the community, from interactions to arrests and to uses of force."

The report also found that Aurora Police repeatedly engaged in unlawful and unconstituional uses of force.

Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly released this statement: The city of Aurora staff and leadership are committed to the systemic change that is already underway in Aurora. We started that work more than a year ago. We will not waver from our deep commitment to a 'New Way' of policing, ensuring public safety and serving our diverse, culturally rich community in Aurora. We are also committed to supporting our officers and firefighters. We, as a community, must support them as they continue to bravely protect our city and as we ask them to meet the expectations of transparency and reform.

I am still digesting the details of the Attorney General's report, and it is painful to hear. It would be premature for me to comment on any specific findings at this time; however, the findings appear to align with the findings and recommendations presented from independent reviews the city commissioned more than a year ago, prior to the Attorney General's review, and presented over the past several months – from Jonathan Smith and his team, 21CP Solutions and the Community Police Task Force. Each recommendation and finding is valuable in helping us strengthen the 'New Way' of policing – and serving our community – that we are already implementing.

I thank the Attorney General's Office team for their thorough and thoughtful work. I greatly value our continued cooperation with them. We will work with them to assure the changes we have already made, and will continue to make, are in alignment with their report.

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson released this statement: We remain committed to cooperation and seeking solutions which keep the best interests of our community and public servants at the forefront.

In the coming weeks, we will work with the Attorney General's Office to determine how to implement necessary and sustainable changes. The final consent decree will serve as another resource in our path forward.

Today is incredibly difficult for not only the Aurora community but this agency. We acknowledge there are changes to be made. We will not broad brush this agency or discount the professionalism and integrity that individual officers bring to our community every day. I am proud to say the Aurora Police Department began the implementation of many changes over the last 21 months, while this and other investigations were ongoing. Those changes have improved overall policing, de-escalation training, community outreach and engagement. I have and continue to hold officers accountable as evidenced by my recent disciplinary actions, which are supported by many officers in the department who are proud to wear our badge.

The report acknowledges the dedicated work we have already achieved and are committed to seeing through. I consider this report as one facet of a comprehensive effort to provide the highest quality police officers and level of service to our community in Aurora.

Aurora Fire Chief Fernando Gray released this statement: Aurora Fire Rescue committed to fully cooperating with the Attorney General's Office during their review. This included providing access to our individual firefighters, crews and any and all EMS report data that was requested. The primary issue identified by the Attorney General for our department was related to the use of ketamine. Although this medication was removed from our system more than a year ago and we have no plans to reintroduce this medication into our system, we find value in the report.

Before the investigation was completed, our department had already taken myriad steps to enhance our service delivery such as extending the quality improvement/review process, improving our patient care documentation capabilities, and modifying the medical protocols to provide additional clarity between police and fire on medical interventions, which ultimately addressed many of the concerns which were brought forward in the report.

Our mission is to provide the best service possible, and we are confident that following national best practices in EMS, updating our medical protocols for therapy every six months, developing relevant data-based training and continuing to enhance our physician-led extensive quality assurance/quality improvement reviews of our responses will lead to great outcomes for the community.

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