Two days before his well-orchestrated launch for re-election, Attorney General Phil Weiser grabbed national headlines with his announcement that the men and women of the Aurora Police Department, Colorado’s second-largest, violated countless state and federal laws and were racist in the performance of their duties.
There are few issues as important to our community as addressing the role that race plays in every aspect of our society, especially in the areas of public safety and the administration of justice. However, the AG investigation resulted in a 118-page report based on logical fallacies, missing and unreliable information, and observations of “statistically significant racial disparities” that are less than those observed in Denver, Boulder and nearly everywhere else.
Aurora PD has well-documented issues and has taken numerous steps in the past 18 months to better address them. Law enforcement, in general, needs greater transparency and scrutiny from those it serves: us. But this report is a politically motivated conclusion looking for a data-related justification. The treatment of the intersection of race and law enforcement and our community deserves much more.
The gist of the report is this: APD is racist in the performance of its duties because it contacts and arrests a higher percentage of Blacks than reside in Aurora. That synopsis saved you 3 hours and several Advil. Such rationale ignores crime trends, individual will, data since the dawn of data, and common sense.
If the AG’s thesis is true, his next “patterns and practices” targets must be the agencies in his home of Denver and Gov. Jared Polis’ home of Boulder.
Looking at 2019-2021 Uniform Crime Report data for Denver, and using the language and logic of the AG’s report: the relative proportion of Denver Police citations, summonses, and arrests involving Black subjects was more than 3 times higher than would be anticipated based on the relative percentage of Black individuals in Denver’s population alone. That is a higher percentage than Aurora PD.
The statistics are dramatically worse in Polis’ Boulder. Using 2019 data, the relative proportion of Boulder Police and Sheriff citations, summonses, and arrests involving Black subjects was approximately 600% higher than would be anticipated based on the relative percentage of Black individuals in Boulder’s population alone. That’s more than double the “statistically significant” findings that earned APD the bloodlust of the AG and his accusations.
The AG may want to explore the racist “patterns and practices” of murderers and other violent criminals as well. In Denver, despite representing 10% of the population, Blacks make up 41% of murder victims and 20% of victims of violent crime. In Aurora, Blacks comprise 43% of murder victims and 30% of violent crime victims, despite making up 16.5% of the population. Does the AG believe that racism explains the over-representation of Blacks in murder statistics?
The report cuts corners to maintain its predetermined conclusion. Rather than analyze use of force data by comparing contacts involving crimes against people versus crimes against property, the AG uses the unhelpful classification of misdemeanors versus felonies. Misdemeanor assault crimes carry far more risk to responding officers than many felony property crimes.
To address his allegation that areas with higher Black populations are “over-policed,” the AG appears to have made no effort to get 911 or call-for-service data by neighborhood or zip code, and instead, treats every documented contact as if it was discretionary and initiated by APD.
The AG’s hand-picked data and resulting conclusions are problematic when applied elsewhere.
One of the touted report experts is the former chief of police for Arlington, Texas. According to their own June 2019 data, 37% of Arlington police stops were made of Blacks, despite the fact that they represent less than 22% of the population. Is Arlington PD racist? If so, why did the AG use their chief of police for this report?
The authors of the report claim to have participated in 190 hours of ride-alongs with APD, during which time they observed unconstitutional uses of force by officers against people “who had not committed a crime and presented no danger.” It is of great concern then, that in the spirit of the much-vaunted police reform bill, Senate Bill 217, these representatives of the AG’s office, a law enforcement organization, appear to have done nothing. No intervention. No immediate referral for investigation. No detailing of what violation of civil rights laws or our criminal code, just indefensible accusations justifying their conclusion that APD uses excessive force.
Weiser now demands APD yield to a consent decree under the threat of litigation and allow him to oversee their agency. However, the use of the “percentage of population” logical fallacy for measuring racist conduct by a law enforcement agency will make our community less safe. This politically-driven metric encourages any agency desiring to avoid or to get out from under the state’s thumb, to make their arrests, contacts and use of force mirror population numbers.
Arming the most political AG in our state’s history with “patterns and practices” powers is more than telling a hammer to go find nails, and sure enough, the hammer found its nail in APD.
In this period of surging crime everywhere, Coloradans should be gravely concerned about what our attorney general is doing. In this period of sincere and needed reflection on race in law enforcement and our community, we deserve more than a report designed to score predictable political points. Coloradans deserve an unbiased and thorough assessment of the practices of Aurora police and other agencies. This was not it.
George Brauchler is the former district attorney for the 18th Judicial District. A version of this article originally appeared in the Denver Post.
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