Aurora Police Department has pattern of racially biased policing, excessive force, probe finds

Colorado’s attorney general will seek a legal agreement designed to correct practices at the Aurora Police Department after a year-long investigation found officers’ pattern of racially biased policing and use of excessive force routinely violated state and federal law.

The department’s officers treated Black people and other people of color differently than white people, including arresting and using force against them, according to the investigation released Wednesday. Officers also routinely used excessive force against people unnecessarily and failed to properly document information about people they stopped, the investigation found.

“We observed 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 to uses of force,” the report states. “These disparities persisted across income, gender and geographic boundaries. Together with the other information we reviewed, we find that Aurora Police engages in racially biased policing, treating people of color (and Black people in particular) differently from their white counterparts.”

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser will seek to create a legally binding agreement, known as a consent decree, with the Aurora Police Department that will outline the steps his office believes necessary to fix the problems investigators discovered.

“If this effort is unsuccessful, we will seek a court-imposed order correcting these problems,” the report states.

The investigation is the first under a new law passed in the summer of 2020 as massive protests against police brutality and racism continued across Colorado following the murder of George Floyd. The bill, SB-217, gave Weiser’s office the authority to conduct such an investigation and, if agencies didn’t make the required changes, to force them to do so via civil litigation.

Weiser chose to investigate the Aurora Police Department following a series of high-profile allegations of police misconduct, including the death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora police and paramedics in 2019.

“Elevating policing and building confidence in law enforcement is a critical priority for the Department of Law,” Weiser said in a news release. “Our authority to conduct pattern and practice investigations is an important tool for advancing this goal. In this case, our team conducted a thorough examination — with the aid of the full cooperation of the city of Aurora — and developed important findings on how Aurora can come into compliance with the law and elevate the effectiveness and trustworthiness of law enforcement.”

Investigators also found that Aurora Fire Rescue had a pattern and practice of illegally injecting people with ketamine. On multiple occasions, Aurora paramedics gave people doses of the sedative that were too large for their body weight and failed to properly monitor them after administering the drug. The department stopped using ketamine in September 2020 as multiple investigations into its use of the drug on McClain continued.

Investigators attributed the failings of the Aurora Police Department to “systemic and severe culture problems,” according to the report.

“Aurora does not create and oversee appropriate expectations for responsible behavior, which leads to the use of excessive force and the violation of the civil rights of its residents,” a news release from Wesier’s office states.

Over 14 months, investigators conducted data analysis, spent 220 hours on ride-alongs with Aurora police and firefighters, attended dozens of police meetings, and reviewed body camera footage. The investigators read more than 2,800 reports, spoke with Aurora residents and interviewed employees of the two agencies.

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