AURORA | Aurora police are more frequently releasing information about internal investigations into complaints made about officers in an effort increase transparency into how alleged incidents are resolved.
Civil rights lawyers lauded the change but said it doesn’t go far enough in giving the public a sense of police behavior and discipline.
Police said this week they are now posting reports about internal affairs investigations online four times a year, up from a single annual report.
“The decision to post the (Internal Affairs Bureau) reports quarterly in addition to annually was made after concerns were expressed by members of the community about the lack of transparency by the department when it came to complaints made against officers,” the department said in a statement announcing the move.
The reports don’t list an officer’s name but detail their rank, a brief description of the infraction they were accused of, whether the accusation was deemed credible by the chief, who reviews the IA investigation and a recommendation from a review board. The reports also note what, if any, punishment the officer received from the chief.
In one case from the third quarter of 2017, for example, a lieutenant was accused of violating the department’s rules regarding “Professional Conduct and Responsibility.” Investigators sustained the accusation and the lieutenant was terminated, according to the report. No other details about the incident or the lieutenant were included.
Other cases include an officer suspended for 10 hours for unauthorized firing of their weapon, a sergeant suspended 40 hours for violating use-of-force rules, and an officer who resigned after accusations were sustained that he or she made a false arrest.
Police said the department’s Community Policing Advisory Team was consulted on the decision to release the reports more often.
Rebecca Wallace, staff attorney and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said the move is a “small step in the right direction” and one other departments should take.
Still, she said the department needs to release more information on internal investigations, something APD has long-been reluctant to do.
“The public records are really so summary that they do very little to educate the public,” she said.
She said many other departments, including Denver police, release more data about internal affairs investigations.
In Aurora, the only recourse the public has to get those details is a “full-blown lawsuit,” she said, and even that isn’t always enough.
Wallace represented Darsean Kelley, a man who sued Aurora police after an officer shot him in the back with a Taser while Kelley demanded to know why he was being detained.
Earlier this year the city settled Kelley’s lawsuit for $110,000, but said the department’s internal affairs investigation found no wrongdoing by the officers.
Wallace said in a case like this, where the taxpayers forked over six figures and which received worldwide attention, the public should know why the department said the officers handled the incident appropriately.
But those details are not released, she said.
“They can never learn why the Aurora police found no misconduct,” she said. “That’s because they have a hard and fast rule that they do not disclose internal affairs files.”
Aurora police spokesman acting Lt. Chris Amsler said the Kelley case wasn’t investigated by IA but instead a different review board. The chief later determined the case did not require further investigation.
Amsler said the department opts not to release the identity and other details about IA cases to protect the officers and civilian staff.