Aurora, CO

Community describes qualities for ideal Aurora police chief

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Aurora, Colo.) During a community forum Tuesday, Aurora residents shared the qualities they want in a new police chief.

Aurora hired Public Sector Search and Consulting to recruit a police chief to replace Vanessa Wilson, who was fired by the city manager last month.

During Tuesday's meeting, residents said honesty and integrity ranked high on the list, along with a desire to fight crime. So did an ability to work with residents who have mental illnesses. Many want the chief to stay out of politics.

One resident said the new chief should come from out of state and have experience handling protests. "Little towns have baggage."

An elderly resident of Del Mar said she doesn't see police patrol the area. She repeatedly used the pronoun "he" when referring to the new police chief. A search firm representative interrupted her and said the successful candidate may be a "she."

Some have alleged the city fired Wilson because she's a woman and a lesbian. City Manager Jim Twombly fired Wilson after the police union blasted her leadership.

One person at the forum recommended rehiring Wilson. He said about 9 percent of the police union includes "bigger criminals than (police) are trying to stop." The other 91 percent are public servants, he said.

Residents: Wilson a scapegoat

Others agreed that city officials blamed Wilson for the department's problems. "Chief Wilson started holding officers accountable to a higher standard of professionalism," said resident Mel Davis. "It's no secret the City Council had opinions about the chief's decisions."

Aurora hired Wilson after Elijah McClain died days after police put him in a chokehold. McClain's death unveiled a history of Aurora police misconduct. The department now operates under a consent decree in which the department promised to make changes, mainly about using force.

Conservative council members criticized Wilson for lacking leadership. Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky called Wilson "trash" on a radio show.

Davis hopes the new chief doesn't become a pawn who gets "stuck between what the council wants and what's right."

A voice for immigrants and refugees

Jackie Zvejnieks and Mark Wideman, who sit on Aurora's Immigrant and Refugee Commission, said police leadership must be welcoming, culturally aware and able to engage those communities.

"What are we doing as a community to prepare for these immigrants and refugees?" Wideman asked. He said the new chief needs a plan.

One resident said his elderly neighbor carries a gun when she takes the trash out because she is scared. Another resident said the new chief must have a plan to remove guns from criminals. A representative of Moms Demand Action who attended Tuesday's meeting agreed.

No 'dog and pony shows'

A man who said he has lived in Aurora for almost 30 years made it clear the community has high expectations for a new chief. He said he wants the new chief to be "faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound."

He said the community "needs a uniter" and "someone who will be here for a while."

Resident Ellen Woo said the Aurora is "steeped in systemic racism" concerning police, education, mental health and more. "We cannot go back to the good old boys' club and that's what's happening."

Woo wants the city manager to take public input about a police chief candidate seriously rather than provide "lip service and dog and pony shows" for community input.

Twombly expects having a chief candidate for the City Council to approve sometime this fall.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career at local newspapers. Today, I report on Denver and Aurora city halls for NewsBreak. Prior to joining NewsBreak, I worked several years as a health reporter and branded content writer in the healthcare space. I also worked many years as a news editor and city editor. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver.

Denver, CO
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