By Brian Maass

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – More than 2,500 Aurora Police Department reports dating back to 2021 and covering crimes such as Murder, Carjacking and Child Abuse had not been reviewed and entered into the police department’s records system by mid -March,  allowing suspects to go free and re- offend, according to a public safety records consultant hired by the city.

CBS4 obtained a copy of the report Tuesday.

Ed Claughton, with PRI Management Group, conducted the study and wrote the backlogged police records situation is “alarming,” creates a “significant liability” for Aurora and is “an issue of significant concern.”

(credit: CBS)

The records review was completed last month and identified 2,512 reports that had not been processed by the police department’s records section. More than 1,000 of the cases are from 2021.

“As a result of the delays in processing police reports, violent crimes reported to the Aurora Police Department may not be investigated for months,” wrote Claughton, “enabling suspects who might otherwise have been investigated and taken into custody, to re-offend.”

The report says an example of the crimes not entered into the system include forcible fondling of a child, child abuse, cruelty to a child, murder and carjacking.

Equally alarming, the consultant said employees interviewed for the report said serious criminal offenses have been overlooked and not investigated.

“It is a near certainty that violent offenses are being reported without timely investigation,” wrote Claughton. He said there should never be a backlog of more than 50 cases.

In a written statement, Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly called the issue “patently unacceptable. I see them as a risk and danger to our officers and the community.”

The report says APD has failed to take the correct measures needed to resolve this problem.

“Such failures are the result of a lack of leadership and accountability,” reads the report.

The consultant indicated staffing shortages are being blamed for the backlog but he suggested there are other factors like work schedules in the department’s records section and “organizational structure.”

(credit: CBS)

The report goes on to suggest “all available resources should be immediately assigned” to remedy the backlog.

Paula Greisen, an attorney representing Chief Vanessa Wilson, said the release of the report Tuesday was “another attempt by the City of Aurora to smear Chief Wilson and give a distorted view of the facts.”

Wilson has been at odds with city administrators and city sources say discussions have been underway to either coax Wilson into stepping down or face termination.

“Clearly they’re trying to set up an excuse to try to push her out,” said Greisen.

The records problem is not new according to memos and studies from 2021. In a Nov. 29, 2021 memo, police department personnel wrote, “The Aurora Police Department’s Records Unit has requested increased staffing levels and technology solutions to accommodate rising workload volumes for many years.”

The memo noted the department was in non-compliance with Colorado Bureau of Investigation and Code of Federal Regulation requirements. Also in 2021, Aurora conducted an internal Police Audit looking at how it handled record requests and staffing issues related to records. In that report, Twombly wrote, “The problems this section faces did not occur over a short period of time, are numerous and in some cases complex. We have approved some additional hiring for the section because the backlog they face is so large. I also credit Chief Wilson for acknowledging that the Records Section needs help and the ask for additional employees. As I’ve mentioned before, this situation didn’t happen overnight and I believe she inherited much of it.”

Since then, the records backlog did not appear to improve much.

Ryan Luby, Aurora’s Deputy Director for Communications and Marketing, said as of Tuesday, the backlog had been cut in half with 1,252 police reports waiting to be entered into the records system.

Additional Resources:

Here is the full statement from Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly:

“The preliminary assessment of the Police Records section was alarming to me. The issues it identified are patently unacceptable. While the consultant discusses them in terms of liability, I see them as a risk and danger to our officers and the community.

As part of our implementation of the ‘New Way’ plan, which aims to improve public safety for the community and add process improvements to make our work more efficient, we continue to assess Aurora’s various public safety systems. In the summer 2021, the city’s Police Auditor, which reports directly to me, began an audit of the Police Records section at the direction of city management and Chief Wilson to assess the section’s timeliness in handling open records requests from the public. Upon further investigation, the Auditor had mounting concerns about the processes, organization and supervision of the section overall. Due to those concerns, I put together members of the city’s Innovation Design Team to evaluate and make recommendations for improvements to the section.  After some time spent in that effort, they realized the problems were more than they could take on. As a result, in December, the Police Auditor, in concert with my office, hired the consultant to review APD’s entire Records section. After one week onsite, the consultant filed an initial report that focused on the transcription of crime reports – the process of reviewing, prioritizing and assigning reports for investigation or follow-up. They took this action due to the alarm they had about the backlog of transcriptions and the urgency needed to eliminate that backlog.

At the time of the consultant’s initial assessment, there were more than 2,500 cases sitting in the queue, potentially delaying timely investigations on serious criminal offenses. According to the consultant, there should be less than 50 in the queue. While attempts to expedite the transcription process for more serious crimes have been created, ongoing system vulnerabilities still exist. We can and must do better.

These are not failures that have occurred overnight. Nevertheless, it is the city management team’s responsibility to make sure there is a plan in place that prioritizes a swift, thorough and lasting resolution to these problems.

APD continues to have my full support to deploy all available resources and is already taking action to reduce the backlog:

  • A police lieutenant with prior records management experience began overseeing the Records section, a change that is consistent with a recommendation made in the consultant’s report.
  • All remote work in the Records section is transitioning to in-person work.
  • APD management authorized overtime for Records staff and supervisors.
  • The Records section is temporarily closed to the public on Wednesdays in order to focus on transcriptions.
  • Officers currently assigned to light duty will be trained on the transcription process and temporarily assigned to the Records section to assist.
  • Sergeants will be trained on quality control measures to fix reports prior to submission to the Records section.
  • APD will implement new, automated features within the records management system to reduce errors and increase efficiency in the transcription process.
  • The department is increasing the number of records technicians and adding a supervisor.
  • Human Resources is conducting a compensation study to attract and retain Records staff.
  • An additional Open Records Coordinator has been added to process CCJRA requests.
  • The Records section is prioritizing and expediting significant cases that requiring immediate investigative assignment or jail follow-up.

APD’s Records section is the central repository and quality control clearinghouse for every report an officer generates, and it provides a critical nexus between officers in the field, criminal defendants, victims and the courts. It also aids in providing a transparency portal to the public on open records requests submitted under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act (CCJRA). In many ways, the Records section is the backbone of Aurora’s criminal justice system. It is crucial to me that we find a long-term solution to the problems and get it right.”

The 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office issued the following statement.

“We have read the PRI report regarding Aurora Police Records Staffing and, suffice to say, we are alarmed. Our first concern is to ensure that the public – and specifically victims of crime – are protected. Failures in processing police reports of new crimes or processing reports in ongoing investigations must be remedied immediately to both protect the public and the integrity of existing cases. Once that is done, we urge city leaders to determine how these failures occurred and ensure that they do not happen again.”

Brian Maass