Two days before his well-orchestrated launch for reelection, Attorney General Phil Weiser made 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 they were racist in the performance of their duties.
Few issues are as important to our community as addressing the role that race plays in all aspects of our society, especially in the areas of public safety and the administration of justice. However, AG’s 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 seen in Denver, Boulder, and almost everywhere else.
Aurora PD has well-documented issues and has taken numerous steps in the last 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 seeking data-related justification. Treating the intersection of race and law enforcement and our community deserves so much more.
The gist of the report is as follows: APD is racist in the performance of its duties because it contacts and arrests a higher percentage of blacks than those residing in Aurora. That synopsis saved you 3 hours and several Advils. Such a foundation ignores crime trends, individual will, data since the dawn of data, and common sense.
If the AG’s thesis is true, your next “patterns and practices” targets should be the agencies in your Denver home and the home of Governor Jared Polis in Boulder.
Looking at the 2019-2021 Uniform Crime Report data for Denver, and using the language and logic of the AG report: the relative proportion of Denver Police citations, citations, and arrests involving black subjects was more than 3 times greater 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 stats are dramatically worse at Polis’ Boulder. Using data from 2019, the relative proportion of Boulder police and sheriff’s citations, citations, and arrests involving black subjects was approximately 600% higher than would be anticipated based on the relative percentage of black individuals in the population. from Boulder alone. That’s more than twice the “statistically significant” findings that earned APD the attorney general’s bloodlust and his indictments.
The Attorney General may wish to explore the racist “patterns and practices” of murderers and other violent criminals as well. In Denver, despite representing 10% of the population, blacks represent 41% of murder victims and 20% of violent crime victims. In Aurora, blacks comprise 43% of murder victims and 30% of violent crime victims, despite constituting 16.5% of the population. Does the attorney general believe that racism explains the overrepresentation of blacks in murder statistics?
The report takes shortcuts to keep its default conclusion. Instead of analyzing the use of force data by comparing contacts involving crimes against persons versus crimes against property, the Attorney General uses the useless classification of misdemeanors versus serious crimes. Misdemeanor assault crimes carry much more risk to responding officers than many serious property crimes.
To address his claim that areas with the largest black populations are “over-patrolled,” the Attorney General does not appear to have made any effort to obtain 911 or service call data by neighborhood or zip code and instead treats each contact documented as discretionary and initiated by APD.
The data selected by the AG and the resulting conclusions are problematic when applied elsewhere.
One of the touted reporting experts is the former Arlington, Texas police chief. According to their own data from June 2019, 37% of Arlington police arrests were of blacks, even though they represent less than 22% of the population. Is the Arlington Police Department racist? If so, why did the attorney general use his police chief for this report?
The authors of the report claim to have participated in 190 hours of accompaniment with APD, during which time they observed unconstitutional uses of force by agents against people “who had not committed a crime and did not present any danger.” It is of great concern then, that in the spirit of the much vaunted police reform law, Senate Bill 217, these representatives of the Attorney General’s office, a law enforcement organization, appear to have done nothing. . Without intervention. There is no immediate referral for investigation. It does not detail what violation of civil rights laws or our penal code, only indefensible accusations that justify its conclusion that APD uses excessive force.
Weiser is now demanding that APD yield to a consent decree under threat of litigation and allow it to oversee his agency. However, using the logical fallacy of “population percentage” to measure racist behavior by a law enforcement agency will make our community less safe. This politically driven metric encourages any agency wishing to avoid or get out of state control to make their arrests, contacts, and use of force reflect population numbers.
Arming the most political AG in the history of our state with powers of “patterns and practices” is more than telling a hammer to look for nails, and indeed, the hammer found its nail in APD.
In this period of increasing crime everywhere, Coloradans should be very concerned about what our attorney general is doing. In this period of sincere and necessary reflection on race in law enforcement and our community, we deserve more than a report designed to score predictable political points. Coloradans deserve an impartial and thorough evaluation of the practices of Aurora police and other agencies. It wasn’t that.
George H. Brauchler is the former district attorney for the 18th Judicial District. Follow him @GeorgeBrauchler.