Aurora, CO – Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson was fired on Wednesday morning, shortly after the police department was accused of having a massive backlog of cases that were not being investigated.
“It is clear that Chief Wilson has prioritized community involvement,” Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said in a statement, according to the Colorado Sun. “However, the police chief also needs to effectively manage the operations of the department, effectively engage with staff, build morale, and validate employee feedback.”
“To provide the level of public safety that our community deserves, a change in leadership must occur,” Twombly explained.
The city said it would launch a nationwide search for a new police chief, the Colorado Sun reported.
Aurora Police Department Division Chief Chris Juul will oversee department operations until an interim police chief can be appointed for the duration of the search.
An independent consulting firm audited the police department and recently released a report that indicated a backlog of more than 2,500 police reports related to carjackings, child abuse, and murders in Aurora that had not been investigated, the Colorado Sun reported.
PRI Management Group’s audit showed that more than a 1,000 of the unprocessed police reports were dated in 2021.
The police department knew about the backlog but took “insufficient steps to correct this high-liability matter,” the audit said.
Ed Claughton, the author of the audit, said the delay in processing police reports may have enabled suspects who should have been arrested to re-offend, the Colorado Sun reported.
Auditors also found several thousand court-ordered record seals and expungements that had not been fully processed and more than 1,000 public records requests that had not been fulfilled.
“The level of risk facing the police department is astounding,” Claughton wrote in the audit.
A group of Democratic elected officials came to former Chief Wilson’s defense and called her termination a setback in “rebuilding our community’s trust in our city’s police department,” the Colorado Sun reported.
“Chief Wilson has been working hard to build a police force that reflects the diversity of our community and hold officers accountable for racially biased actions,” the statement read. “Her firing in the middle of these efforts sends a terrible message to the police force and to the community about Aurora’s commitment to reforming these practices.”
Now-former Chief Wilson had faced criticism during the period of unrest in the community following the death of Elijah McClain after he was arrested by Aurora police.
More than once since the riots began in the summer of 2020, the first female police chief for the city was accused of spending more time on community relations than police department administration.
Her handling of community relations during that period also came into question after rioters chained shut the exterior doors of the Aurora Police Department’s District 1 station house, trapping the officers inside for more than seven hours.
Angry protesters barricaded the streets and vandalized the exterior of the police station, KDVR reported.
Police didn’t move in to clear out the protesters locking their fellow officers in the station until about 3:30 a.m. on July 4, 2020 when rioters began shooting fireworks at officers in the area.
The lock-in had been going on for about seven hours by then, according to KDVR.
“They were starting to take the big mortar style type fireworks while they were trying to untie the gates so officers could come and go, they started throwing fireworks at them. Not only that, someone had a fire extinguisher, they were spraying our officers with a fire extinguisher. We didn’t use any force until they started doing it to us, that’s when we used 40-millimeter foam rounds, no pepper spray or tear gas or smoke,” Officer Longshore explained.
He said that the decision to let the protesters keep the officers locked in was made intentionally, KDVR reported.
“There wasn’t a rush to come in move people out,” Officer Longshore said. “The officers were safe inside. We wanted to give the people the ability to express their First Amendment right, to protest, peacefully assemble and make their voices heard, so we didn’t have an immediate rush to go in and clear people out. Waiting a little bit longer, the crowd size became smaller, so we had an advantage.”
Afterward, police found full gas cans and other homemade weapons hidden in the area around the police station, KDVR reported.
“We found gas cans, full of gasoline that were staged in that immediate area,” Officer Longshore said.
Officers were unable to respond to 911 calls in the area for the seven hours protesters surrounded District 1, KDVR reported.