Dozens of Aurora police officers upset about references to ‘slave patrols’ during diversity training

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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) – Several Aurora police officers who filled out an Aurora Police Association survey after a recent, mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion training session said they were offended by the presentation, and one person even called for the police chief to be removed as a result of it.

“Chief Wilson should be removed her position due to the lack of leadership demonstrated in allowing a myopic bigot to present training to the entire department in the guise of diversity and equity,” one person wrote in the anonymous survey.

According to Doug Wilkinson, the president of the Aurora Police Association, the organization that developed the survey, only about 50 people provided feedback, though the APA has about 270 members.

The Aurora Police Department has 744 sworn officers who were required to attend the seminar if they were not otherwise on leave.

“We did the survey because some of our members were upset about the content, so I thought I’d give them a forum to explain themselves,” said Wilkinson.

While a handful of responses provided positive feedback like, “ I think the training is a good step in forming the new way of doing business that police will have to eventually undertake,” many of the survey results collected by the APA showed some officers were offended when the presenter discussed the history of policing and made references to police officers conducting slave patrols in southern states.

“I felt like it was against the police because of what occurred 100’s of years ago,” one person wrote.

Another person said, “It’s ridiculous, I think the training is causing more devision (sic). It’s trying to guilt us into believing that we had something to do with what happened over a hundred years ago..maybe they should be teaching personal accountability and making better decisions. I also feel like it was more of an opinion based class instead of focusing on facts.”

“The results showed that approximately 90% of the people who responded were profoundly insulted by the implication that they are racists,” said Wilkinson, in an email to the Problem Solvers. “I don’t think there was anything beneficial about the classes from the point of view of the officers. As a tool for intimidation and demoralization the classes seemed to be very beneficial from the point of view of the Department and City.”

The chief responds

Chief Vanessa Wilson said she will continue bringing various forms of diversity training despite the negative feedback from a portion of her officers.

“I didn’t ask for the survey. That was something that was done by the APA, which they have their absolute right to do. And even though there are some comments in there that are critical, I think that’s important to see where we’re coming from,” Wilson told the Problem Solvers.

“Where are we starting as an agency? What are the issues that we are facing? What are people feeling defensive about? Once we can recognize that, then we can tailor the next training to try and break down some of those barriers and have conversations – not just about white, Black, but all different cultural differences, right? All different disabilities. Everything else that makes us different in society,” she said.

The training

Nita Mosby Tyler and a colleague at Denver’s The Equity Project provided the training, which Mosby Tyler referred to as a “dialogue” about current societal sentiments around policing and bias and race.

She said with decades of experience making presentations like this, she expected some negative feedback.

“I knew that the work would be difficult, and it’s because I do this work, that when you begin to talk about the history of race and the implications that it has on our work, it’s just hard. So, I don’t walk into this work blindly. I never assume that it’s going to be easy to get through conversations like that, and it wasn’t,” she said.

Mosby Tyler said it was important to talk about the history of some policing in other parts of the country to provide perspective.

“Because of the social climate around racial reckoning in our country, I was going to have to talk about race and it’s ugly history, and so we talked about things like being in slave states, where at that time, policing was associated with being the slave patrol. That’s not pretty, and that’s not comfortable, and no one says, ‘Yea. Let’s talk about those ugly beginnings,’” she said.

“There are other parts of the country where policing was really more affiliated with law and order. It just depended on where you were in the country,” she added, “but the important thing about that conversation is that those sentiments travel through the generations, and then when you think about current day – how different communities feel about policing – sometimes, it’s not about the things that are happening most recently, it’s about the history that they learned about,” she said.

The fraternal order of police responds

Marc Sears serves as the local president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 49, which represents 512 sworn Aurora Police Officers and is the official labor union for the Aurora Police Department.

While he did not participate in or support the survey that was conducted by the APA, he said he did hear similar concerns from his members.

Several people started calling him to complain, he said, so he took the feedback to the chief’s office for consideration.

“Being called a modern-day slave catcher is not appropriate at all, and it’s offensive, and it shouldn’t be thought of that way,” he said.

Sears said he did not think the presenters thoroughly considered to whom they were making the presentation, but he said the overall presentation had merit.

“There was a lot of officers that got offended, and I understand that, but this survey does not represent what the men and woman of this police department are all about,” said Sears.  “I would say the vast majority of police officers at this department do have an open mind, and they’re phenomenal at what they do. And they’re willing to accept training.”

The equity project

Mosby Tyler said she uses a 20-60-20 rule when she makes presentations.

“Twenty percent of the people already understand what you’re talking about. Sixty percent are there to learn, because they don’t actually know how to engage in this or how to talk about it. And there will always be 20% that will be diabolically opposed to you having this conversation, and it being relevant,” she said.

Mosby Tyler said it would be important for all people attending her seminars to use the training to see how it informs what they do next.

“It’s sad to see how opposed people can be to a conversation that really is designed to lift all of us up,” she added.

She said she received positive feedback too, and so did the chief.

Moving forward

“I think in the future, I think I’ll go ahead, and I’ll send out a survey department-wide,” said Wilson.  “I think that’s a good lesson learned to kind of have that feedback, both critical and positive.”

She said it has been a rough year with some negative sentiment toward law enforcement.

“I think some officers came in already kind of defensive, and so I’m hoping that through more training, more communication, and seeing that no one is attacking them personally, that we can try and break these barriers down and have really good conversations,” she said.

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