Vanessa Wilson named Aurora’s new police chief following 10-1 council vote

Aurora leaders on Monday hired Vanessa Wilson to be the city’s new police chief — the first woman to hold the position.

The city manager appointed Wilson — a longtime officer who has served as interim chief since Jan. 1 — to take the chief position permanently and City Council approved the appointment nearly unanimously.

Wilson joined the department in 1996 and rose through the ranks. In 2015, she became the first woman appointed to the rank of division chief and also was the first woman to serve as interim chief. During her career, she’s overseen patrol, investigations, field training and internal affairs.

As interim chief, Wilson’s handling of large protests in the city has been criticized by protesters as well as those who oppose the protests. Wilson has also fired at least six officers for misconduct during her seven-month stint leading the department.

“Aurora is a city that has experienced many triumphs and tragedies, and we sit at a crossroads for our city’s future,” Wilson said in a statement. “I am committed to leading the Aurora Police Department to be an active and engaged part of this community in building a collaborative and constructive path forward. We will be a transparent partner dedicated to making Aurora a safer city for all, with respect for our diversity, an embrace of unity, and continual conversation about how we can do better.”

The mayor and nine council members voted to approve the hire, though some expressed reservation in their support. Councilwoman Angela Lawson voted against the appointment and said she preferred the other internal candidate for the job.

“She’s had a trial by fire, ever since she became interim,” Councilwoman Marsha Berzins said.

Three other candidates vied for the job:

  • Marcus Dudley Jr., an Aurora police commander who leads the department’s internal affairs bureau
  • Alexander Jones, a colonel and bureau chief at the Baltimore County Police Department
  • Avery Moore, assistant police chief at the Dallas Police Department

The appointment comes as the department continues to grapple with the fallout from a series of high-profile incidents, including the Aug. 30 death of Elijah McClain after three of the department’s officers violently arrested him though he hadn’t committed a crime. McClain’s death gained international attention in June during widespread protests of police brutality and put a national spotlight on the Aurora Police Department.

The new chief will also have to address sinking morale inside the department, the results of multiple ongoing investigations into McClain’s death, a community push for civilian oversight of the agency, fallout from a protest where officers used pepper spray and force on a largely peaceful crowd, a significant uptick in violent crimes and national conversations about the future of policing.

More than 25 people wrote in during the public comment section of Monday’s meeting to slam the department for these incidents and others. The criticism constituted the bulk of public comment and included calls to defund the department, the arrests of the officers involved in the death of McClain and multiple opinions that the department is irreparable.

“Can anyone, anywhere say they’re proud of the Aurora police department?” one commenter said.

The previous chief, Nick Metz, retired Dec. 31. His planned retirement was overshadowed by controversy over his decision to allow an officer to keep his job after being found passed out drunk in a running department vehicle while armed and on duty. The department’s former second-in-command, Paul O’Keefe, also retired in December after it was revealed he was the first officer on the scene and part of the decision to not investigate the incident as a crime.

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