Aurora will hire an independent monitor to oversee police accountability, according to Elijah McClain’s report
Aurora’s leaders will hire an independent monitor to oversee discipline and accountability within the city’s police force, the city administrator said a day after a damned investigation into the death of Elijah McClain in police custody was published.
“I will work with the mayor and city council to follow the establishment of an independent monitor to improve police accountability, transparency and public trust,” said Jim Twombly, Aurora city manager, during a news conference Tuesday.
The announcement follows Monday’s release of a report detailing the independent investigation into McClain’s 2019 death following a violent arrest by Aurora police and an injection of the sedative ketamine by city paramedics. The review found that the department’s internal investigation was deeply flawed and that the detectives who conducted the investigation were clarifying the truth in an attempt to exonerate the officers.
Twombly said the report exposed “a failure of an accountability system”.
City Councilor Alison Coombs called the report worrying, saying she supported hiring an independent monitor and other solutions to tackle a broken accountability system.
“Elijah McClain’s treatment was totally unacceptable,” Coombs said. “It was violent. It was torture. “
Discussions about civil oversight of the Aurora Police Department have been going on since 2019, when a series of high-profile injuries and killings by police sparked an outcry in the city. A task force of community members has been working to clarify how oversight should look for a year and is due to present its recommendations to Aurora City Council on March 15, said councilor Nicole Johnston, who heads the task force.
Recommendations include setting up a police accountability, transparency and transformation office that better incorporates community member feedback into the work of the police department, she said. The task force supports hiring an independent monitor, she said.
“A lot of good has been done, but we still have a lot to do,” she said.
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said during the press conference that she supports the hiring of an independent monitor because “this is the only way we can regain community trust”.
If Aurora makes the position, it will be the third Colorado city to do so. Denver set up an independent monitor office in 2005 and Boulder hired a monitor in July.
“I believe Chief Wilson has made great strides in holding officers accountable and in implementing policies and training to improve the department,” said Twombly. “However, a system of accountability shouldn’t depend on who sits in the chair of the boss. It needs to be set up to work and to represent the community’s desire for constitutional, impartial and respectful policing that holds officers accountable. I think an independent monitor can help us with that. “
However, details of the new position and her role are not clear. City spokesman Ryan Luby responded to questions from the Denver Post that it was too early in the process to say what the schedule for hiring an independent monitor will be, what parameters will play the role, and to whom in the City the monitor would report.
Last year, the city hired an internal auditor to review police policies and procedures. The chartered accountant, who started on Jan. 1, joins the team of auditors who routinely assess a number of city policies and report to Twombly.
Wilson also created a Violence Investigation Unit in November to deal with the use of force by officials. The unit will consist of Aurora Police officers, who are subject matter experts, who will ask “specific and difficult questions” and conduct a full investigation for submission to the department’s Force Review Board.
She will also reach out to the two prosecutors who are deciding whether to argue with the Aurora police in cases of violence to see how they will proceed with investigating future police killings.
Wilson wouldn’t say whether the two officers involved in McClain’s death who remain on duty would face discipline, citing ongoing investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Colorado Attorney General. Nor would she say whether the detectives leading the flawed investigation into the incident were disciplined.
Wilson pledged to address implicit bias in the department. The report did not state that McClain’s race played a role in the way the officers and paramedics worked.
“However, research shows that factors such as increased perceptions of threats, perceptions of exceptional strength, perceptions of higher pain tolerance, and misperceptions of age and height can be indicators of bias,” the report said. “We urge the city to evaluate its efforts to implement implicit or otherwise unbiased policing.”
Changing the guidelines is not enough, investigators said in a call to reporters on Tuesday afternoon. The Aurora Police Department must undergo sustained and deliberate culture change, they said.
“This is an effort that will take several years, if not decades,” said Roberto Villaseñor, former police chief and member of the investigation team.