AURORA, Colo. -- Aurora city officials said they are taking action after a Denver7 investigation showed the state knew about an effort to mislead neighbors of a new parole office.
As Denver7 Investigates first reported, more than 1,000 parolees are ordered by the state to report to the office. The new office is located in a building with other tenants including an alternative school, a doctor’s office, and a tutoring program for children.
Denver7 Investigates obtained an email sent by a state parole manager in the weeks before the office opened, telling parole officers, “I have been informed the other tenants in the building do not know exactly what we do or the nature of our business. Those tenants who have asked were told by property managers that we are a ‘state advocacy group.’ I anticipate the truth will be revealed at some point but I would like to stress we remain as low key as possible. Please make sure you are in full compliance with the dress code to include concealment.”
State law requires the Department of Corrections to notify city officials when a new parole field office is opening. The state followed that requirement by sending a letter to Aurora’s mayor and city council about four months before the new office opened:
City officials confirmed they received the letter but did not realize it meant hundreds of convicted criminals would routinely report to the address.
“I got the letter. I thought it was a very standard vanilla letter from the state of Colorado saying they were going to do something. I turned it over to city staff. They, I think, looked at it the same way. The city attorney’s office looked at it, didn't see anything special. The city manager's people looked at it, didn't see anything special. And next thing we know, we have something that we didn't expect,” Mayor Steve Hogan told Denver7’s chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski.
“The state said when they sent this letter to you, they fulfilled their obligation. What's your take?” Kovaleski asked the mayor.
“I think there are procedural obligations and there are practical obligations,” Hogan responded. “Yes, they fulfilled the procedural obligation. But when you're dealing with a special situation, and I would call this a special situation, there's no reason in the world why someone can't reach out with something a little more than a piece of paper. A phone call, and email saying, ‘Okay we sent you this letter but this is what it really means.’ And we didn't get any of that.”
But the state’s letter did raise a red flag for city council member Marsha Berzins, who responded to the state’s letter within hours:
“A neighborhood is not the location for a parole office,” Berzins tells Denver7. “But I never heard back. It was too late. We had no say. That was the frustrating part. We had no say, they had already chosen it. They sent us the intent, they are moving in. Not, ‘We want to talk.’”
City leaders admit they did nothing to notify the neighborhood about the new parole office before Denver7 Investigates brought the matter to the city’s attention.
“Should the city have done more, in hindsight?” Kovaleski asked Mayor Hogan.
“It's possible that you could say that we could have and should have done more … But this was the first time [a parole office has opened in Aurora.] … We didn't know what to expect,” Hogan responded.
“If we'd had more detailed information at the time that might have led to a different discussion,” deputy city manager Michelle Wolfe said.
The state admits it could have gone an extra step in communicating with Aurora’s city leaders.
“Could we have been more proactive reaching out to them? Should that be part of a joint communication plan? I think it should be, yes,” said the state’s director of adult parole Melissa Roberts.
After learning of Denver7’s investigation, city officials announced the police department would take several steps to follow up, including:
· Touch base with the tenants of the building to determine whether there have been any problems directly attributed to the parole office, along with providing safety information and tips.
· Contact residents and businesses around the immediate area of the parole office to determine whether there have been any problems directly attributed to the parole office, along with providing safety information and tips.
· Ensure that Aurora Public Schools and the Parks, Recreation & Open Space staff are aware of the parole office and provide them with safety information and tips.
· In order to further the good working relationship that already exists between parole officers and the Aurora Police Department, arrange a meeting with the leadership of the parole office to ensure they get a chance to meet the local Police Area Representative and Police District 2 leadership.
The Colorado Department of Corrections also took quick action after Denver7’s investigation. The director of adult parole, Melissa Roberts, met with the building’s owner to discuss the situation, and toured the building to meet tenants and answer their questions.
“We wanted to be clear that there was a mistake made. No one in my division should have agreed to what was asked for as part of that lease agreement. And all we can do now is try to make it right by having a discussion with the owner and the property manager and telling them this is not how we do business. And if that's their expectation for doing business with us, we don't want any part of it,” Roberts said.
Roberts said her department is also forming a communications plan to make sure city leaders, neighbors and tenants are informed about new offices opening in other communities in the future.