Sep 16, 2021 - Politics
Colorado attorney general is now the top cop for police misconduct
Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly, left, and Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson face pressure amid new state investigation. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly, left, and Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson face pressure amid new state investigation. Photo: Hyoung Chang/Denver Post via Getty Images

The Colorado attorney general is demanding the Aurora Police Department overhaul its entire operation after a damning investigation found prevalent racism, excessive force and other illegal practices within the agency.

Why it matters: The first-of-its-kind order, announced Wednesday, is possible thanks to a far-reaching police accountability measure that expanded the attorney general's powers to investigate practices within local law enforcement agencies.

  • The law gives the state's top prosecutor a role akin to the civil rights division in the U.S. Department of Justice and take legal action to enforce changes.

State of play: Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, said he is seeking the cooperation of the Aurora police and city officials, but made clear he would go to court to obtain a consent decree if they can't reach an agreement.

  • The overhaul will include an independent monitor to enforce the order, which may extend as long as five years "to institute meaningful and lasting change," Weiser said.

No other law enforcement agencies are currently under investigation. Weiser did not elaborate on whether he will use his authority to address similar concerns in other agencies even as he asked residents to report bad actors.

Context: The attorney general's office initiated the investigation soon after the law's passage, which was prompted by the death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora police in 2019. Weiser credited demonstrators for demanding action after initial investigations cleared officers of wrongdoing.

What they're saying: Advocates behind the police accountability law don't want Weiser to stop with Aurora.

State Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat and author of the measure, said people have already lodged complaints against other agencies.

  • "It is not limited to Aurora ... it's likely happening in other places as well," she told John. "I would like to see [the effort] continue and not end with Aurora."

Attorney Mari Newman, who represents McClain's father, said she hopes "this is just the beginning of what this law can do to help protect Coloradans."

  • "This can serve as a model across the entire country," she added.

The bottom line: Building on the recent criminal indictment of three police officers and two paramedics in McClain's death, the attorney general's demands represent the most striking action to address racial injustice in policing in Colorado.

Go deeper: Read the full investigation

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