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October 05, 2022 10:22 AM UTC

Aurora City Council a Cautionary Tale for 2022

  • by: Colorado Pols
Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman with “Mini-Mike,” City Councillor Dustin Zvonek.

In last November’s Aurora municipal elections, voters elected a slate of Republican candidates to the city council who ran campaigns focused on public safety issues. Nearly one year later, the new people in charge are trying to pretend that crime rates have decreased — providing no actual evidence — while proving to be utterly incapable of finding a qualified person to serve as Aurora’s Chief of Police.

This is a cautionary tale for voters in Colorado who are once again being told by Republican candidates — including those for governor and attorney general — that high crime rates are the fault of Democrats and only Republicans can solve the problem.

As Saja Hindi reports today for The Denver Post:

The search for a new Aurora police chief is starting over, city officials said on Tuesday.

One of the two finalists in the running last week withdrew his application after three days of meeting with city staff, City Council and community members, according to the announcement, and the second finalist did not have enough City Council support to move forward, spokesperson Ryan Luby said.

City Council members held a closed-door meeting on Monday night to discuss the recruitment process that had yielded only two finalists after a third withdrew. The process was widely criticized by people in the community who said they were left out of the process and council members who questioned their lack of choices.

Community members had worried neither candidate could lead the department and deal with the issues created over the past three tumultuous years, and they noted both candidates chosen to lead the police department in the state’s most diverse city — 44% of the population identifies as white — were white men. City officials reported that the initial pool of 21 applicants included seven people who were women or people of color and two were chosen for semi-finalist interviews.

The City of Aurora hired a search firm to find candidates for a new police chief. One of the two finalists, Scott Ebner, is named as a defendant in two ongoing lawsuits alleging unfair and discriminatory promotional practices at the New Jersey State Police.

Really great work, there. Good thing Aurora voters put a new Republican majority in charge!

Back in November 2021, worries about crime rates carried the day in Aurora’s municipal elections despite many community concerns about excessive force in the police department, including calls for the resignation of Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman (which is part of the reason why Coffman worked to hard to stack the city council with cronies). Police reform in Aurora had become a hot topic particularly following the killing of Elijah McClain; subsequent protests led to Coffman calling protestors “domestic terrorists.”

With his new conservative majority in place — including his former congressional staffer Dustin Zvonek — Coffman focused his efforts on ousting Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, whose leadership of police reforms seemed to have been going well. By April, Wilson was out and Dan Oates was assigned as interim chief.

You can argue whether or not Wilson should have been forced out as police chief, especially in light of the disgusting abuse claims manufactured by Wilson’s partner Robin Niceta. We won’t rehash that here, but the key point is this: It is clear that the aggressive new Republican-led Aurora city council didn’t have a plan for what to do AFTER they ousted the police chief. 

Thus far, the plan in Aurora seems to be to just pretend that people are safer. Mayor Coffman presided over a strange town hall meeting last month in which city leaders claimed that crime was declining. But as Carina Julig reported for The Aurora Sentinel, Coffman and friends wouldn’t (or couldn’t) provide any proof to support these claims:

Vehicle theft has risen in Aurora by more than 30% from last year, but in the past 30 days crime across almost all categories has fallen in the city, according to data from the Aurora Police Department released during a town hall meeting held Saturday by Mayor Mike Coffman.

Police did not release details about the crime metrics. [Pols emphasis] Denver Police on their crime statistics website also showed a decrease in most categories of crime over the last 28 days, compared to three-year averages.

To paraphrase Republican gubernatorial candidate Hiedi Heidi Ganahl: Can’t you just assume our crime statistics are valid? 

John Kellner

Aurora police Division Chief Jad Lanigan told community members on Sept. 10 that not all of their mythical numbers were good. Noting that auto vehicle thefts had increased 31% in Aurora from the previous year, Lanigan said:

“Our numbers might look high right now but if you look across the country, the numbers are high across the board.”

How inspiring.

It is true that crime rates are rising all over the United States, in part because of lingering issues related to a GLOBAL pandemic and subsequent supply chain problems that have contributed to a GLOBAL rise in inflation. But that’s not what Republican candidates in Colorado are telling voters right now.

Republican candidates are saying that rising crime is the fault of Democrats and that the only way to fix the problem is to put them in charge. Take Republican John Kellner, for example. Kellner is running for Attorney General and blames the incumbent Democrat, Phil Weiser, for high crime rates in Colorado. Kellner is currently the District Attorney in JD-18, an area that includes — you guessed it — Aurora.

Kellner’s rhetoric is part of the very same narrative that GOP candidates for city council were saying in Aurora just one year ago, and now Aurora doesn’t even HAVE a police chief. Maybe Kellner has more of a plan than Coffman and his Aurora city council cronies. Maybe Kellner is just keeping that plan to himself for now. But considering what we’ve seen in recent history from Republicans in Colorado, we’re not inclined to just shrug and give the GOP the benefit of the doubt here.

And neither should Colorado voters.


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