Aurora police announce policy changes

Aurora police on Tuesday banned carotid pressure holds and made other policing policy changes in response to the ongoing protests over policing in the United States and in announcing their changes talked about a controversial police killing that has prompted protests outside City Hall.

“Truly there has been a call to action across the nation,” interim police chief Vannessa Wilson said. “There needs to be change.”

The new directives take effect immediately. Aurora’s change follows new policies announced Sunday by the Denver Police Department in the wake of mass community protests. In announcing some of the changes, Wilson said some things already were taught as a standard in training but they were not written in directives to officers.

For example, police officers are trained to announce themselves and give warnings to suspects before they fire their weapons. But it was not an official requirement. That changed Tuesday with the virtual stroke of a pen.

Other policy changes are:

  • A duty to intervene, meaning police officers are responsible for stopping each other from violating department policy.
  • Officers involved in a violent conflict will be replaced with fresh officers who should be less emotionally involved and able to de-escalate the situation.
  • Officers’ response to suspicious person calls will change. Rather than being required to make contact with the person who has been reported as suspicious, officers will be allowed to observe them and use their judgment as to whether the person is committing a crime and needs to be stopped.

Two of the changes directly evolved from the August killing of Elijah McClain, who died after a violent encounter with Aurora police. A caller had reported McClain as acting suspicious after seeing him walking down the street while wearing a mask. When officers stopped McClain, the interaction turned into a fight with officers using a carotid pressure hold to restrain McClain and paramedics injecting him with ketamine to sedate him. McClain went into cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and later died. An autopsy had inconclusive results as to the cause of death.

Now, officers will need to stand back and observe a person and make the judgement call on whether further engagement is warranted, Wilson said. She acknowledged that black people are more often reported as suspicious than other races.

“No one should ever be considered suspicious based on the color of their skin,” she said.

Mayor Mike Coffman, who joined Wilson and City Manager Jim Twombly in making the announcement about policy changes, talked about a newly formed 13-member police review task force, made up of diverse community members from education, faith backgrounds, NAACP and police. City Council will be vote on the task force during a special meeting on June 15.

“I’m looking forward to input from them” as the city moves forward with police practices, issues and change, Coffman said.

Twombly announced that a lawyer has been hired to conduct an outside investigation into McClain’s death and should file a report by mid-July. Twombly’s announcement came after three City Council members sent a letter asking for a special investigation, but Twombly said he’d already decided to hire someone months ago. That investigation was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but will become a priority, he said

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