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Denver7 investigation prompts changes in Aurora parole office

Internal email exposed effort to hide office
Posted at 6:29 PM, Dec 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-15 01:10:28-05
AURORA, Colo. -- The Colorado Department of Corrections and the Aurora Police Department have taken action after a Denver7 investigation exposed an effort to keep neighbors in the dark about a new parole office.
 
Following the Denver7 investigation, state officials admitted they made mistakes. State parole leaders toured the office building, answered questions from tenants, held an open house, pressed the property owners to make improvements to the property, and hired a full-time security guard to parole the office. Aurora police also mailed notification letters to neighbors living near the new office after learning of Denver7’s reporting.
 
The office opened this summer in an office building in Aurora. The location raised eyebrows among parole staff because more than 1,000 parolees are ordered to report there, and it shares a building with an alternative school, programs for children and teens. The building is located across the street from an apartment complex with a busy playground.
 
A Denver7 investigation in October revealed parole staff received an email from a parole manager before moving into the office, advising them tenants would not be made aware of the new office.
 
“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,” the memo read.
 
Months after the office moved in, Denver7 Investigates showed tenants in the building and residents at the neighboring apartment complex had not received any notification about the hundreds of convicted criminals reporting to their neighborhood. At the time, tenants said they were angered about the deception and lack of communication with the state.
 
Police did not notify neighbors for months until Denver7 asked questions
 
The Colorado Department of Corrections notified Aurora city leaders via email about the new parole office on April 25, as required by law.
 
“When a parole office is locating in your city, you are supposed to give notice to the public,” Aurora Police Department Commander Marcus Dudley told the city council in early December. “So we did that notification, as well as put out some safety tips.”
 
In October, a deputy city manager told Denver7’s chief investigative reporter Tony Kovaleski the city had no legal obligation to notify the neighborhood about the new office. The police department’s notification letters to the neighborhood went out days after that interview – about three months after the office opened.
 
At a December study session, city council members pressed police for more details about the notification timeline and what notification requirements exist.
 
“Quite frankly, on the police side, we were not aware that state law required that we had to give notice,” Dudley responded. “We are required to notify the public. It’s not clear or specific as to how that notification is accomplished. But that is our requirement.”
 
State parole leader: “There was a mistake made”
 
Colorado’s adult parole director, Melissa Roberts, said she was unaware of the efforts to hide the presence of the new Aurora office until her interview with Denver7 Investigates.
 
“I was very surprised,” Roberts said. “No one in my division should have agreed to what was asked for as part of that lease agreement.”
 
Roberts quickly scheduled a walk-through at the building to meet with tenants and answer their questions. The state also held an open house in the parole office for neighbors to visit and understand the business conducted there.
 
Roberts said she also met with the property owner and property managers to insist she would not have agreed to any effort to mislead tenants about the true nature of the parole office.
 
“I think it's important for them to understand that this is not how we do business, we're proud of what we do, we work with individuals who live and work in their communities, and we can provide a certain sense of security based on our staff's qualifications,” Roberts said.
 
The parole director said her meetings with the owner resulted in the hiring of a full-time security guard and planned improvements to the lighting around the building and in the parking lot.
 
She told the city council her department had taken swift action to try to fix the mistakes it made.
 
“That's not how I do business; that's not how we will do business. It was a lesson to me that certain things need to come up to the top of the division and that will happen in the future,” Roberts told the council. 

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