Aurora police chief says department culture has been “reset” but acknowledges the tough battle ahead

Aurora’s new police chief says the internal culture of the contested police station she now runs has been reset, but admits that she and her officials are facing an uphill battle to regain community trust.

Vanessa Wilson took over the permanent position of chief on Monday amid demands for immediate changes in policing as well as demands from the community to devalue the department. Protesters put the Aurora Police Department in the national spotlight by demanding a settlement for the death of Elijah McClain, who died after being forcibly arrested and injected with ketamine by three Aurora officers. A number of controversies have since kept the department in the spotlight.

For example, Wilson again tweeted an apology for their officers’ actions minutes before city guides announced their election as boss on Monday night. She apologized to an innocent family whose children were held at gunpoint on Sunday.

“I’ll say we made some high profile mistakes,” Wilson said on Tuesday. “I know my officials know what to expect from me, they know what the expectations are, and that I will listen to the community and give them a voice. I think the culture has been reset. I think everyone in this agency wants to move forward and win back the trust of the community. “

Wilson’s candidacy for the position and selection for chief was received with mixed reactions from the city council, community members and the department’s two unions. The boss’s statement about resetting the culture met with skepticism from some community leaders.

“I don’t know how that is possible,” said Topazz McBride, pastor at Restoration Christian Fellowship and a member of the city’s Community Police Task Force. “How did that happen, was there some kind of wand? How were they reset in the last month? “

Omar Montgomery, president of the NAACP’s Aurora division and former mayoral candidate, said the department needed to make changes immediately to help close an ever-widening gap between officials and the community.

“I’m generally the one who says we’ll give some time to work,” said Montgomery. “But now I’ve come to the point where we need accelerated reform. It’s not that the task force and commissions aren’t working, it’s that they’re not working fast enough. “

“It’s like a veil over our city because we have to deal with the police all the time,” he said.

Wilson, the only white person of the four nominees for boss, said she realizes that she’ll never fully understand what it is like to be a person of color, but that she’s committed to reaching out to color communities for help to help her make changes.

“We recognize our mistakes,” she said. “We realize that things have to change. I know it’s hard to be patient and I know people are angry, but if they gave us an opportunity we probably would have made some progress. I know we have an uphill battle but we are determined to do the right thing. “

Sometimes doing the right thing means firing officers for misconduct, Wilson said. She acknowledged that there may be some in the department who disagree with some of her six layoffs since Jan. 1, but said others thanked her for some of the layoffs.

One of the layoffs resulted in the Aurora Police Association, one of the department’s two unions, declaring it unable to run. The other union, the fraternal Order of Police, supported Sentinel Wilson’s position, according to The Aurora.

McBride said that she thought having a black man in the position would have been beneficial in connecting with the black community, but that none of the three black candidates were right for the job and that Wilson was the best candidate.

“I think we would be in a better position if we had the right black man in this role, given the racial segregation and the reactivity of the Aurora PD with our community,” said McBride. “(The department) was just so aggressive and aggressive and there was a lack of sensitivity.”

Montgomery said he wasn’t surprised Wilson was chosen to be the boss, but said she needed to act now to back up her promises with action. It also has to deal with the lack of diversity in the department, especially in the highest echelons, he said. Of the 16 sworn members of the executive team listed on the department’s website, there is only one black person – Marcus Dudley Jr., the other in-house nominee for the boss – and Wilson is the only woman.

Despite a goodwill Wilson has built over the years, there are some in the Aurora community who are cautious about their appointment, Montgomery said.

“Everything the NAACP asked of her, in terms of research, data, and tough questions, did a good job,” he said. “We need to go beyond questions and see what changes will take place.”

Whatever changes, it must take into account the empathy and cultural awareness of the department’s officials, McBride said. The protests and calls for change will not end as people – especially blacks – continue to be killed, injured and traumatized by police, she said.

“This is an iceberg that is so heavy beneath the surface that there is so much that people don’t even know about,” said McBride. “And that is not only the case in Aurora, but across the board. And if that’s just what we can see, how scary are the things we don’t know about. “

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