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Former Aurora police chief tapped to lead embattled department in interim role

Daniel Oates
Posted at 2:08 PM, Apr 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-20 16:16:58-04

AURORA, Colo. — Dan Oates, the former chief of the Aurora Police Department, will be heading back to lead the embattled department on an interim basis, the City of Aurora announced Wednesday.

Oates was selected as interim chief after the city fired Vanessa Wilson on April 6. He will also help the city select a permanent chief, Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly said.

Oates, who led the department from 2005 to 2014, was praised for his leadership skills during the 2012 theater shooting and has become a voice for police reform in recent years.

But his tenure was not without controversy. In 2013, it came to light that evidence in 48 sexual assault cases was destroyed by APD officers, which led to some of the cases not being prosecuted. He called that “a grievous mistake” for the department, according to The Denver Post.

Oates first came to Aurora after serving as the chief of the Ann Arbor Police Department in Michigan. Before that, he worked for the New York Police Department, working his way up from a beat officer to a command position where he oversaw 3,000 officers.

Oates left the Aurora Police Department in May 2014 after he accepted the top cop position for the Miami Beach Police Department. He retired from the Miami Beach Police Department and law enforcement in May 2019.

After leaving law enforcement, he accepted a position to lead a team for the U.S. Department of Justice as a consultant on the department’s efforts to reduce crime in various cities including Baltimore, Maryland and St. Louis, Missouri.

“I selected Dan for this important role because he has established trust with our community and many of our officers, and I believe he will effectively manage the department and further the enduring transformation in public safety our community expects under our ‘New Way’ plan,” said Twombly in a release. “Dan brings focus to crime reduction, community engagement and internal leadership that will serve our community well during this transition. He will also provide critical guidance as we begin to seek community input in selecting a permanent chief.”

Oates is an attorney and holds a law degree, a master’s degree in management, and a bachelor’s degree in English. In June 2020, amid the protests over the death of George Floyd, he wrote an opinion article published in The Washington Post titled, “I used to be a police chief. This is why it’s so hard to fire bad cops.”

In the piece, he criticized the process by which so-called “bad cops” can be protected by police unions, laws, and civil service commissions. He wrote specifically in the piece that his general experience in Colorado involved officers keeping one another honest, but talked about the few Aurora officers he did want to fire.

“I had 16 cops out of 650 whom I felt should be fired. Four I actually did fire. The Civil Service Commission promptly reversed me on three of them. So with the other 12 cops, I bent over backward to negotiate their departures with creative severance packages. I succeeded in getting them out – with deals that protected the city from litigation – but these agreements also allowed the cops to get jobs elsewhere if they could.”

He ended the piece by asking voters to “empower our police chiefs to hold cops accountable.”

“They will lead the reform America is demanding,” he wrote.

Until the city picks a permanent chief, which it hopes to do by the end of the year, he will be tasked both with gaining the support of the APD officers and the community at large – something Wilson was criticized by some city officials for not doing as effectively as they wanted.

Wilson was fired from the department April 6 for what Twombly said was her failure to effectively manage the department.

“It is clear that Chief Wilson has prioritized community involvement. However, the police chief also needs to effectively manage the operations of the department, effectively engage with staff, build morale, and validate employee feedback," Twombly said during April's announcement.

Wilson fired back last week and said she felt Twombly was “very wrong” when he claimed that her overall leadership and management of the department was to blame for her ouster and said there “shouldn’t be partisan politics in public safety.”

Oates is scheduled to arrive in Aurora on May 23 after he undergoes a minor medical procedure at the end of April, the city said. City officials will make the announcement during a 4 p.m. press conference Wednesday.