A 20-year Aurora police lieutenant announced his retirement Thursday in an email to the city’s council members, accusing them of having a lack of respect for law enforcement.
“It is with great sadness that I inform you of my retirement after 25 years in law enforcement. I spent the past 20 years in Aurora and it was a pleasure to do so, until this year,” Lt. Dave Cernich wrote in a letter to city council members.
“I can honestly say that my retirement is a result of you. I am disheartened by your lack of respect for the occupation I’ve revered for so long. The double standards between us and you is a difficult pill to swallow,” he wrote.
The lieutenant’s resignation comes during a tumultuous time for law enforcement nationwide — and especially in Aurora.
While the death of George Floyd in May sparked national outrage and served as a catalyst to Senate Bill 217, a sweeping police accountability bill, Aurora Police Department fell under direct scrutiny in August 2019 for the death of Elijah McClain, who died after the city’s officers placed him in a chokehold and paramedics injected with with a powerful sedative.
The officers placed McClain in a carotid hold — which restricts blood to the brain to render someone unconscious — while responding to a report of someone wearing a mask who looked “sketchy.” McClain suffered cardiac arrest in the ambulance and was later declared brain dead. He died several days later.
Aurora’s city council members have remained divided over law enforcement and some “continue to demonstrate hostility” toward them, said David Gruber, councilman-at-large.
“The result is that almost 10% of our officers have resigned or returned and our crime rate has increased dramatically,” Gruber said. “I’m sorry to say I can’t blame our officers for leaving our city. Council needs to better understand the challenges our officers face and support the oath they have taken on our behalf.”
Gruber acknowledged the “poor judgment” among some of the city’s officers and lauded the more than 700 officers who “have dedicated themselves to serve and protect the residents of Aurora.”
Since McClain’s death, the department has also reckoned with a scandal where officers smiled for selfies while reenacting the carotid hold used on McClain at the site of his arrest, the fallout from the department’s decision to forcefully disperse a largely peaceful crowd at a vigil for McClain and most recently, a viral video that showed four Black girls lying face down in a parking lot after being handcuffed by Aurora police officers.
Councilwoman Francoise Bergan said she spoke to several officers who have decided to leave the department in part due to the end of qualified immunity under Senate Bill 217 and other policies implemented at a city level.
Bergan — who admitted that some of the policy changes are necessary for the department, like the ban of chokeholds and temporary ban of ketamine — said Cernich was not alone in feeling unsupported.
Earlier this month, Aurora’s public safety committee hit pause on a proposal to ban officers’ use of pepper spray. The proposal came after the police were criticized for using pepper spray and smoke canisters during a largely peaceful protest and vigil for McClain on June 27.
“I think some of those things are a concern to our officers in terms of how they are supposed to protect themselves in situations where they don’t want to use lethal weapons,” Bergan said.
Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who has supported some of the police reforms of the embattled police department, said banning the use of these deterrents would jeopardize officers’ safety.
The loss of officers paired with a rise in crime in the southeast part of the city has concerned many residents, Bergan said.
“At this point with a loss of officers and an increase in crime, it’s something that is unsettling for them.”
Nationwide, police departments are struggling with recruitment, attrition and a feeling of being “under siege” following the widespread protests sparked by the death of Floyd, a Black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.
In Colorado Springs, the city’s police department has seen some officers retire early because of the current climate. Last year, the department lost 49 officers to attrition and it has already lost 49 this year, Mayor John Suthers said.
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