AURORA, Colo. -- The push for change in law enforcement came to a reckoning after the murder of George Floyd earlier this year in Minneapolis and was followed by renewed calls for justice in the death of Elijah McClain, a young Black man who died in Aurora police custody last year.
As thousands of protesters took to the streets in Denver and Aurora to demand accountability, their message helped Colorado lawmakers pass a sweeping police reform bill that Gov. Jared Polis signed into law.
Aurora city leaders are now are considering a new kind of police reform effort.
“The events of the last several weeks and months are what made this come to the forefront for me,” said Aurora City Councilman Curtis Gardner, vice chair of the city council’s Public Safety Committee.
Gardner is proposing an ordinance that would ban taxpayer money from going to organizations who lobby against police reforms the city and its residents support. He found several fire and police organizations to which the city pays annual membership dues have actively lobbied against these efforts.
“Organizations made up of chiefs of police from large cities across the U.S., and they not only lobby at the state level but also at the federal level. Organizations that can have significant influence,” Gardner said.
Gardner had city staff do an analysis, which uncovered Aurora taxpayers were spending $12,920 a year in membership dues to these organizations. The largest amount, $5,000, went to the Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association. The city also pays $1,500 to the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and $1,670 to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
“It’s really a transparency and accountability thing. I don’t think it’s an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars to lobby against the positions that council has taken,” Gardner said.
One of those positions is qualified immunity, the legal protection that shields officers from civil lawsuits and what Colorado lawmakers recently did away with under the new law. However, the IACP recently put out a statement strongly opposing efforts to eliminate qualified immunity.
“That’s just one example of why I think it’s important to make this change,” he said.
These organizations do more than lobbying. They also provide training and networking for officers, among other things, but the city can’t pay for one without the other when it comes to their membership dues.
“I would like the police department and fire department to find alternatives,” Gardner said. “I think it’s a commonsense change that really gives some accountability in terms of how we’re spending our money.”
Denver7 Investigates reached out to Aurora Police and Fire. Both said they do not comment on pending or proposed legislation.
Gardner plans to formally introduce the ordinance during a Public Safety Committee meeting next week.