Colorado Department of Law finds pattern and practice of racially biased policing, use of excessive force by Aurora Police
Aurora Fire found to have pattern and practice of administering ketamine in violation of law
Sept. 15, 2021 (DENVER)—Attorney General Phil Weiser today announced that a Colorado Department of Law investigation team found that the Aurora Police Department has a pattern and practice of violating state and federal law through racially biased policing, using excessive force, and failing to record legally required information when interacting with the community. The investigation team also found Aurora Fire had a pattern and practice of administering ketamine in violation of the law.
Senate Bill 20-217, a law enforcement accountability bill enacted in Colorado in 2020, authorizes the attorney general to investigate any governmental agency for engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates state or federal constitutions or laws. In August 2020, Attorney General Weiser announced an investigation of Aurora Police and Aurora Fire based on multiple community reports about misconduct.
“Elevating policing and building confidence in law enforcement is a critical priority for the Department of Law. 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,” Weiser stated.
Data and other evidence show a pattern and practice of race-based policing in Aurora
The report released today demonstrates a consistent pattern of illegal behavior by Aurora Police, which can be witnessed at many levels of the department. 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.
Investigators found that Aurora Police have used force against people of color almost 2.5 times more than whites based on their relative percentage of the population. According to the Force Review Board’s annual use-of-force reports, nearly half of the individuals whom Aurora Police used force against were Black, even though Black residents make up about 15% of the population in Aurora.
The investigation also found that Aurora Police disproportionately interacted with and arrested non-white community members. For instance, Aurora Police arrested people of color 1.3 times more than whites based on population percentage alone. That multiplier was even greater for Black community members, who were arrested over 2 times more than whites.
Also, Aurora has not updated its practices on documenting contacts with members of public as required by SB-217, and officers continue to make stops without documenting them as the law requires the investigative team found.
When it comes to personnel, the Aurora Civil Service Commission overturns disciplinary actions in high-profile cases in a way that undermines the chief’s authority, and the commission has total control over entry-level hiring. Under the recruitment process, the officers hired fail to reflect the diversity of the city. For example, only 1.1% of Black applicants (5 out of 454), as compared to 4.2% of white applicants (119 out of 2,809), who met minimum qualifications, were offered a job. This level of racial winnowing can be observed at every step of the process, suggesting bias in Aurora’s recruitment and hiring process.
Aurora Fire Rescue has a pattern and practice of administering ketamine illegally
Even though Aurora Fire suspended its use of ketamine on Sept. 14, 2020, ketamine administration records from January 2019 to June 2020 show that during that period, Aurora Fire reported administering ketamine 22 times for excited delirium, a life-threatening medical emergency. These records show that, in more than half the incidents, paramedics failed to follow ketamine monitoring protocols and administered ketamine at doses above the maximum allowable dose for the reported weight of the subject.
Although Aurora Fire has indicated it does not plan to reinstate its use of ketamine, the report outlines requirements should it decide to do so. Those requirements include:
- reviewing dose recommendations,
- developing a uniform method to assess patient agitation to reduce unnecessary ketamine administration,
- providing clear training and policy guidance on what information Aurora Police officers can and should give paramedics when a police-involved patient is agitated or combative, and
- creating a more stringent review process to ensure policy compliance.
Consent decree will require specific changes and ongoing oversight
The Department of Law strongly recommends Aurora enter a consent decree with the department to require specific changes—with ongoing independent oversight—to policies, training, record keeping, and hiring. The pattern and practice law gives the Department of Law 60 days to work with Aurora to find an agreement on a consent decree to implement these changes.
To ensure that the changes lead to real, meaningful improvements the Department of Law will also require that the city pay for an independent monitor who will report to a court and provide periodic public updates about progress in implementing changes.
“We want Aurora to succeed in these improvements and strongly believe that an agreement provides the best way to do so,” Weiser said. “Over the coming weeks, we look forward to working with Aurora and other stakeholders to create a consent decree that ensures these requirements are implemented promptly. We are encouraged by the city of Aurora’s interest in working with us to do so.”
Department investigators spoke with current and former personnel, participated in more than 220 hours in ride-alongs with police officers and firefighters, observed most Force Review Board meetings from December 2020 to September 2021, attended numerous community-police meetings, spoke to interested community members and leaders, and reviewed thousands of use of force reports. The city of Aurora, and the leaders of the Aurora Police Department and of Aurora Fire Rescue, cooperated fully with the investigation, giving investigators full access to the two agencies.
Weiser said he is grateful for the cooperation of Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly, Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, and Aurora Fire Rescue Chief Fernando Gray in the investigation.