Aurora leaders hired Vanessa Wilson as the city’s new police chief on Monday – the first woman to hold the position.
The city administrator appointed Wilson – a longtime officer who has served as the interim chief since Jan. 1 – to permanently assume the position of chief, and the city council almost unanimously approved the appointment.
Wilson joined the department in 1996 and rose through the ranks. In 2015, she was the first woman to be appointed to the rank of head of department and was also the first woman to act as interim manager. During her career, she was responsible for patrols, investigations, field training, and home affairs.
As interim chief, Wilson’s handling of major protests in the city was criticized by both demonstrators and opponents of the protests. Wilson dismissed at least six officers for misconduct during her seven month tenure as head of the department.
“Aurora is a city that has seen many triumphs and tragedies, and we are at a crossroads for the future of our city,” Wilson said in a statement. “I am determined to make the Aurora Police Department an active and committed part of this community to find a collaborative and constructive way forward. We will be a transparent partner committed to making Aurora a safer city for all, with respect for our diversity, an embrace of unity and constant conversation about how we can do better. “
The mayor and nine council members agreed to the hiring, although some expressed reservations. Councilor Angela Lawson voted against the appointment, saying she preferred the other internal candidates for the job.
“It has had a trial by fire since it became temporary,” Councilor Marsha Berzins said.
Provided by the Aurora Police
Aurora Sheriff’s Finalists, Vanessa Wilson, Alexander Jones, Avery Moore, and Marcus Dudley.
Three other candidates vied for the job:
- Marcus Dudley Jr., an Aurora police commander who heads the department’s internal affairs bureau
- Alexander Jones, Colonel and Bureau Chief, Baltimore County Police Department
- Avery Moore, Assistant Sheriff, Dallas Police Department
The appointment comes as the division continues to grapple with the aftermath of a number of high profile incidents, including the death of Elijah McClain on Aug. 30 after three division officers forcibly arrested him despite having committed no crime. McClain’s death in June garnered international attention amid widespread protests against police brutality and put the Aurora Police Department in a national spotlight.
The new boss also has to deal with declining morale within the department, the results of several ongoing investigations into McClain’s death, a community push into civilian scrutiny of the agency that emerged from a protest at which officials used pepper spray and violence against one largely peaceful crowd, a sharp increase in violent crime and national talks on the future of policing.
More than 25 people wrote during the public comment section of the Monday meeting to beat up the department for this and other incidents. The criticism made up the bulk of public comments and included calls for exoneration of the department, the arrest of officers involved in McClain’s death, and multiple opinions that the department is irreparable.
“Can anyone say they are proud of the Aurora Police Department, anywhere?” said one commentator.
The former boss, Nick Metz, retired on December 31st. His planned retirement was overshadowed by controversy over his decision to allow an officer to keep his job after he passed out drunk in a running department vehicle and drunk on duty. Former deputy to the department, Paul O’Keefe, also retired in December after it was revealed that he was the first officer on the scene and was part of the decision not to investigate the incident as a crime.