The Aurora Commission lowered the standard for new police hires, emails show

AURORA — The Aurora Police Officer Hiring Commission lowered its standards for some of the psychological evaluations of new candidates, according to emails from Denver7 Investigates.

The Aurora Public Service Commission is an independent body composed of citizens and appointed by the Aurora City Council. It is tasked in part with guiding new police and fire service applicants through the hiring process and making a final decision on who will be hired.

For police officers, this process includes a professional aptitude assessment, which includes a written test and a meeting with a psychologist. Prospective officers receive a grade from 1A to 5F. Grades 1A through 3C are usually considered acceptable to proceed with the process, while 4D and 5F are usually disqualified.

However, between 3C and 4D is a 3C grade, which one expert says typically indicates a candidate has some red flags. That grade can result in a candidate being disqualified, but a 2020 email from a public-sector analyst shows the commission disagreed.

“Brower Psychological originally informed the commission that most agencies considered a 3C- inappropriate, but the commission chose to maintain it as an appropriate rating,” the email reads.

Brower Psychological is the company that did the evaluations for the commission between 2018 and 2022.

Aurora Councilwoman Danielle Jurinsky, who also chairs the city’s Public Safety Committee, said the emails show a system she believes is “broken” and said changes are needed.

“I think the emails prove that the Civil Service Commission allowed standards to be lowered,” Jurinsky said.

The chair of the Civil Service Commission, Desmond McNeal, was not a member of the commission at the time the email was sent in November 2020, but disagrees with Jurinsky’s assessment, saying he believes the process is working, adding that it give room for improvement.

“We’re a group of citizens trying to make the best of the information we get,” he said. “I don’t feel like we lowered the standards. I think we changed the standards to get a broader view of our candidates… No agency is perfect. What I want to say is that we are constantly reviewing, changing and adapting our process.”

The exam is also just part of a lengthy hiring process. New recruits go through another psychological evaluation outside of the JSA, as well as a background check and several other steps before the commission makes a hiring decision.

McNeal believes there is room for some leeway in the JSA exam.

“Sometimes people have a bad day, and we don’t want to rule out good candidates for that bad day,” he said.

The Civil Service Commission has been subject to an audit in the past. In 2021, an Aurora Police Department officer was seen on body camera pistol-whipping and choking a suspect. Officer John Haubert was hired by the Commission in 2018 despite having a criminal record.

“One of the most important processes”

A company called Psychological Dimensions now handles assessments for both new hires and those moving from other departments. Public safety psychologist Heather McElroy says a 3C score means there are some potential problems and more information is needed, but it’s not an automatic disqualification.

“I think the psychological assessment is one of the most important processes,” McElroy said.

McElroy said that she can make recommendations based on current Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification standards, but cannot make a final decision on whether or not an officer is fit for service. POST states that a prospective officer must complete a psychological evaluation, but does not require them to pass or meet a specific rating, leaving it up to each individual police agency to determine what is permissible.

“There’s nothing stopping an agency from hiring candidates rated D or F,” McElroy said.

Denver7 Investigates asked a city spokesman if he knew why the commission decided not to disqualify candidates who had scored a 3C- on the exam, and was told there was no record of a formal discussion or vote by the give commission.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that there are no records,” Jurinsky said.

questions about diversity

Jurinsky said she believes the testing standards are linked to the Aurora Police Department’s diversification efforts.

“I think this drive for diversity, equity and inclusion has taken over the hiring process and we’re no longer hiring the best candidates at Aurora,” Jurinsky said. “People need to understand these officers, these bad actors, they are not employed by the police.”

McNeal strongly disagrees with this view.

“No, I don’t think we lowered the test scores to get more diversity,” he said.

Jurinsky pointed to the city’s establishment of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office in 2020, the same year the internal test results emails were sent out.

However, McNeal said there are other reasons for the lack of diversity in the department.

“There is currently a distrust between communities of color in the city and the police force,” he said. “I think it hurts how many applicants we get who are different.”

Denver7 Investigates also received an open file request spreadsheet that listed the candidates’ first and last names, ethnicity, and JSA ratings. Out of hundreds of applicants, an analysis revealed that the city hired 11 officers from that particular list with a 3C-JSA rating.

Of those 11, four identified as Black, the remaining seven as White.

The latest Aurora Police numbers show that white officers make up 76% of the department. Almost 12% identify as Hispanic and approximately 5% as Black.

These numbers don’t tally with the city’s demographics, as census figures show that only 44% of Auroras identify as White (not Hispanic or Latino), nearly 30% as Hispanic, and 17% as Black.

For comparison, 63% of Denver Police Department officers identify as white, while demographics show that 55% of Denver residents identify as white (not Hispanic or Latino).

changes along the way

Art Acevedo, Aurora’s acting chief of police, has headed departments in other major U.S. cities, including Houston and Miami. But he says his current job is the first where he doesn’t have the final say on new hires.

“With other agencies where I’ve worked as a police chief, I’ve had to make that final decision, the final hiring decision,” he said.

In Aurora, Acevedo doesn’t meet new recruits until their first day at the academy, which he says creates difficulties for the department. He said he doesn’t think this current model is good.

“If the department is to be held accountable, we need a bigger voice and a bigger say in hiring,” Acevedo said.

From next year, Acevedo will get its way. The commission chairman said they are changing the rules to give both Aurora police and fire chiefs final clearance for new hires.

According to a city spokesman, the Civil Service Commission will continue to certify a list of qualified candidates but will work with police and human resources to identify new hires as part of the rule changes.

“The interim chief will have more say,” McNeal said. “That will happen.”

McNeal said the commission was created to avoid nepotism and fears it could be a problem in the future.

“The public service will remain a sort of oversight group to try to prevent things like this,” McNeal said.

An email from the city also said the commission will remain active in disciplinary procedures for officials and will retain an important role in the city.

McNeal said the commission doesn’t necessarily agree with all the changes but will continue to work hard for the city.

“I think the Civil Service Commission and both departments (police and fire) are working hard to regain public confidence,” McNeal said. “I think it’s a process.”



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