Interim Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson will be tasked with regaining the fractured trust of Aurora, Colorado residents after she was appointed the city's permanent chief of police during a city council meeting Monday night.
"I am honored, humbled, and energized by the trust the city manager, mayor, and council has placed in me. 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 prepared statement moments after the vote. "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, and embrace of unity, and continual conversation about how we can do better."
“I believe that she is the right choice to lead the Aurora Police Department,” Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman tweeted Tuesday. “She has a lot of work to do to improve the image of this department and to rebuild trust between our officers and the community.”
Wilson's appointment comes at a time when the embattled police department is under the spotlight for a series of controversies over the past year, most notably the violent arrest of Elijah McClain, who would die days later after encountering police the night of Aug. 24.
The announcement came a few hours after it was revealed Aurora officers detained a Black family after mistaking their SUV for a stolen motorcycle from another state Sunday, the latest in a string of tarnishing encounters with residents in the community.
Coffman said in an interview Tuesday that he believes Wilson is right for the job.
“She is not afraid to make the tough decisions, and I believe that she is a person that can move this department forward,” the mayor said. “IT has had a lot of problems: Poor image, bad relationships with the community. So it is really going to take a tremendous effort and a lot of work to move the department forward, and I think she can do that.”
Omar Montgomery, the president of the NAACP’s Aurora chapter, says he thinks that the recent incidents involving APD show that the department needs to take a serious look at the culture within the department and how it handles situations like the one on Sunday or the Elijah McClain incident.
“We need something different because it seems like every other day there is something we are addressing related to the police department,” Montgomery said. “…If we can get rid of those officers and keep the ones that are doing a phenomenal job I think we will be on the right path to getting a police department that we, all combined, can trust.”
Wilson was selected after a months-long nationwide search to replace Chief Nick Metz, who retired from the force Jan. 1.
Wilson will continue to lead a department under scrutiny as communities around the nation reexamine the role and operations of police departments in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Marcus Dudley Jr., a commander with Aurora Police Department; Alexander D. Jones, a colonel and bureau chief for the Baltimore County Police Department; and Avery L. Moore, an assistant police chief with the Dallas Police Department, were the other three candidates vying for the position.
Aurora City Council also on Monday unanimously passed a resolution banning Aurora police from using carotid holds, which was used on McClain the night of his violent arrest. The use of carotid holds had already been changed under department policy, but will now go before a final vote during the next city council meeting.