Aurora PD Criminal Investigations Delayed Due to Case Backlog

DENVER — An independent report compiled last month by a police records consulting firm found the Aurora Police Department still had more than 2,500 reports awaiting investigation — a “high-responsibility case,” according to the report – including reports involving child sexual abuse, murder and carjacking.

The PRI Management Group report, titled ‘Interim Project Update’, is dated March 14 and sharply criticizes the police service’s record-keeping process – saying some of the errors could put the service in a similar position to that of the services that ignored the warning signs that led to mass shootings at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

The PRI Management Group was hired to audit the department after an internal audit of APD’s engagement under Colorado’s Criminal Justice Records Act found that processes needed “improvement to increase accessibility and transparency, and APD did not always comply with rules or regulations.”

The PRI team made an on-site visit on March 7, according to the report, and found “a significant issue regarding pending police records.” As of March 11, there were still 2,512 police reports that needed to be processed by the department’s records section.

“Although the police department is aware of this, it has not assigned the level of urgency it should and has taken insufficient action to correct this high-responsibility matter,” the report said.

He goes on to say that this delay in processing reports could lead to delayed follow-ups for further investigation.

Of the 2,512 cases still pending at the time, nearly half (1,054) dated from last year, including crimes involving forcible touching of a child, child abuse children, cruelty to children, murder and carjacking, according to the report.

“Due to delays in processing police reports, violent crimes reported to the Aurora Police Department may go uninvestigated for months, allowing suspects who might otherwise have been investigated and taken into custody to re-offend,” report author Ed Claughton wrote.

During interviews, according to Claughton, employees all said they thought there might be serious crimes that were left in the queue, and the consulting firm found that there was “a near -certainty” that violent crimes are being reported and not being investigated quickly enough. The company said that as a general rule there should be no more than 50 pending cases.

“The Aurora Police Department would face intense scrutiny and accountability in the event a suspect commits a murder or other violent crime who would otherwise have been taken into custody without the lineup of transcript,” the report said. “It is administrative errors and failures like this that drive [sic] to cases like the Charleston, SC church mass murder and the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, which would not have happened if law enforcement had not made a mistake in handling the previous cases involving the suspects.

The report says records department employees are receiving angry calls from people frustrated with the delays, and that the department has not worked to prevent the backlog from growing – forcing records department employees to work hours while the backlog grows as more cases are reported.

“Ultimately, such failures are the result of a lack of leadership and accountability,” the report said.

He goes on to say that the “agency-wide assumption” is that the backlog is due to staffing shortages, but the author says this assumption overlooks other contributing factors.

“In fact, our preliminary findings indicate that the organizational structure and work schedule in the archives are the primary causes of all backlogs,” the report said.

He says there are several thousand seals and expungements from court records that have yet to be processed; more than 1,000 requests for public documents still pending; and several thousand other outstanding quality checks.

The report says the records department has been split in two over the past two years – a law enforcement and operations side and a public window side. PRI Management Group wrote that the splitting of the department in two was “incorrect”. He also said he thought a police lieutenant overseeing the records department could have prevented such backlogs.

But in the meantime, the report suggests that amidst “astonishing” risk, the police department should put all available resources into dealing with the backlog of cases.

“The majority of employees in the archives section should be fully focused and assigned accordingly until it is resolved,” the report said. “Resolving this backlog should immediately become the primary and overriding mission. While this backlog requires immediate resolution, approval of reports should not be rushed.”

Other steps that should be taken to deal with the backlog, according to the PRI Management Group, include having sergeants take a closer look at police reports for errors so they don’t have to be corrected by the Archives Section; have the municipal court use Versaterm to reduce the number of physical documents that need to be delivered to court; train officers to locate reports still in the backlog; and giving officers the ability to manage criminal history from their mobile computers without having to contact the records department.

Aurora officials say changes are already underway after preliminary report

Aurora spokesman Ryan Luby said on Tuesday the backlog had dropped to 1,252 pending reports — 721 being general violation reports and 531 of those being supplemental reports.

Luby said the report represented the initial report after a week of work by PRI Management Group and the company’s assessment was still ongoing. PRI will publish a final report once this is complete.

In a long statementAurora City Manager Jim Twombly called the preliminary report’s findings “alarming.”

“The preliminary assessment of the criminal records section alarmed me. The problems he has identified are clearly unacceptable. While the consultant talks about them in terms of liability, I see them as a risk and a danger to our officers and the community,” Twombly said in the written statement.

Twombly said the internal audit of the records department, the results of which were released in December, began last summer “under the direction of city management and the chief [Vanessa] Wilson. »

Twombly said that after the auditor found lingering concerns, he brought together members of Aurora’s innovation design team to make recommendations on improvements, though they realized that they needed help, that’s when PRI Management Group was hired.

Secondly recognized there are “ongoing system vulnerabilities” despite the department working to expedite the processing of reports, saying, “We can and must do better.”

“These are not failures that happened overnight,” Twombly said. “Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the city management team to ensure that a plan is in place that prioritizes the prompt, thorough and lasting resolution of these issues.”

Twombly said the department is already working to address some of the recommendations made in the report. He said a lieutenant with records management experience now oversees the records section and people working remotely in that section are returning to work in person.

Twombly said the archives section will be closed each Wednesday to the public so they can focus on the backlog, and officers assigned to light duties are being trained on the process to help temporarily.

The records department is also working to automate some processes and hire more technicians and another supervisor, Twombly added, and to prioritize “important cases”, he said.

“In many ways, the records section is the backbone of Aurora’s criminal justice system. It’s crucial to me that we find a long-term solution to the problems and get it right.

The report was delivered to the Aurora City Council on Tuesday morning, sources told Denver7 Investigates.

“This is a very serious issue and there needs to be accountability,” Aurora Pro Tem Mayor Francoise Bergan told Denver7 Investigates after reviewing the report.

On March 23, Denver7 announced that Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson planned to leave the department in the coming weeks due to concerns about her performance as head of the department. The next day, Wilson’s attorney, Paula Greisen, said the chief did not plan to resign or retire, but acknowledged the city manager had requested a meeting to discuss an exit strategy with the chief. earlier this week.

“As of last Friday an outside attorney said there was no intention to fire Chief Wilson, no intention to evict him at all. And then on Monday the city manager called Chief Wilson…and said “I want to talk about an exit strategy,” Greisen said.

Sources told Denver7 that whether Wilson resigns, retires or is fired, she will not continue as police chief in the future. She has been leading the department since December 2019.

At-Large Councilman Dustin Zvonek, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, called the report’s findings “shocking” and “appalling” in an interview Tuesday. He said it was “just another example of the systemic failure of the leadership of our police department.”

He also said the release of the report was not an attempt to undermine the police: “This is being brought forward because it is a serious issue for our community.”

“I think the responsibility lies with the chef,” Zvonek said. “And again, as I said, this is, to me, another example of the systemic failures of the leadership of this department.”

Zvonek said he was deeply concerned about the report and would push for answers about how the backlog got so big and what the city was doing to address it.

“I hope everyone who was involved in not presenting this sooner is held accountable,” he said.

Mark M. Gagnon