Aurora police’s review of use-of-force incidents not thorough enough, monitor finds

The Aurora Police Department’s system to review officers’ decisions to use force is not thorough enough, according to the company tasked with overseeing court-mandated reform at the department.

The Force Review Board fails to ask broader questions about how an officer could have prevented an incident from escalating and instead focuses on smaller questions, investigators with InegrAssure wrote in a report made public Monday.

The finding was part of the consent decree monitor’s first public report tracking the Aurora Police Department’s implementation of a series of mandated reforms following an investigation by the Colorado attorney general. The investigation found the department regularly engaged in policing that was biased against people of color and routinely used excessive force. IntegrAssure will release 12 reports about the department’s progress.

City and police leaders have cooperated with the consent decree monitor and have made substantial progress on several of the mandated changes, the report states.

Investigators with IntegrAssure honed in on how the department handled a May 15, 2021, traffic stop that nearly devolved into a police shooting because the incident “highlights many of the issues facing policing and the community and the critical role of best-practice policies, training and accountability systems.”

“It is an incident which could easily have resulted in a tragic officer-involved shooting,” the report states. “It involved miscommunication and misperception between the officer and the subject, it implicated potential implicit biases that need to be specifically recognized and addressed, and it highlights the importance of intense field supervision and field training, especially for new officers.”

An officer who had been with the department for 18 months stopped a car on May 15, 2021, after the driver nearly hit him while he conducted a different traffic stop. The driver reached into the front of his waistband when the officer asked for identification and the officer drew his gun and pointed it at the man.

The officer then called for backup and other responding officers also drew their weapons. One of the arriving officers tackled the man to the ground and three other officers joined the fight on the ground. The officer who made the initial stop then shocked the man twice with a Taser.

The department’s Force Review Board looked at the incident and found the officer should have acted more professionally and been in better control of himself. The officer should not have used the Taser and failed to conduct a DUI investigation, the board found, and recommended he receive training on those two topics.

But there were other lessons to be learned from the incident, the monitor found. The board did not examine how the officer could have prevented the situation from escalating nor what role implicit bias may have played.

“The fact that this situation unnecessarily evolved into one that came perilously close to a police shooting did not consume the board,” the monitor wrote. “Simply put, the board’s review should have been much more critical, in the nature of a deep-diving after-action report, with every aspect of how that which occurred could have been avoided and probed for lessons which could be taught both to the involved officer and to the department at large.”

The monitor also learned that staffing shortages at the department mean new officers received less supervision than in the past, the report states. Those inexperienced officers are often assigned busy, high-crime overnight shifts along with the least senior of the supervisors because of the department’s scheduling bidding system, according to the report.

The consent monitor team will hold a public town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at the Beck Recreation Center, 800 Telluride St., in Aurora.

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