Aurora commission lowered standard for new police hires, emails show

AURORA — The commission responsible for hiring police officers in Aurora has lowered its standards for a portion of psychological evaluations of new applicants, according to emails obtained by Denver7 Investigates.

The Aurora Public Service Commission is an independent board made up of citizens and appointed by the Aurora City Council. He is responsible in part for guiding new police and fire candidates through the hiring process and making a final decision on who is hired.

For police officers, part of this process includes a suitability for employment assessment, which includes a written test and a meeting with a psychologist. Prospective officers receive a grade ranging from 1A to 5F. Grades 1A through 3C are generally deemed acceptable to continue the process, while grades 4D and 5F are generally disqualified.

Between 3C and 4D, however, is a 3C rating, which usually indicates a candidate has red flags, according to an expert. This rating can lead to a candidate’s disqualification, but a 2020 email from a civil service analyst shows the commission thought otherwise.

“Brower Psychological initially informed the commission that most agencies consider a 3C- to be inappropriate, but the commission has chosen to retain it as an appropriate grade,” the email states.

Brower Psychological is the firm that provided the assessments for the commission between 2018 and 2022.

Aurora City Councilwoman Danielle Jurinsky, who also chairs the city’s public safety committee, said the emails presented a system she said was ‘broken’, and said changes were needed .

“I think the emails prove it, that the Public Service Commission authorized the lowering of standards,” Jurinsky said.

Public Service Commission Chairman Desmond McNeal was not on the commission when the email was sent in November 2020, but he disagrees with Jurinsky’s assessment, saying that he thinks the process is working while adding that there is room for improvement.

“We are a group of citizens trying to do our best with the information we get,” he said. “I don’t feel like we’ve lowered the standards. I think we changed the standards to have a broader view of our candidates… No agency is perfect. What I will say is that we are constantly checking, modifying and adjusting our process.

The exam is also only part of a long hiring process. New recruits pass another psychological screening outside the JSA, as well as a background check and several other steps before the board makes a hiring decision.

McNeal feels there is room for some wiggle room with the JSA exam.

“Sometimes people have a bad day and we don’t want to exclude good candidates for that bad day,” he said.

The Public Service Commission has come under scrutiny in the past. In 2021, an Aurora Police Department officer was seen on body camera whipping and choking a suspect. The officer, John Haubert, was hired by the commission in 2018 despite having a criminal record.

“One of the most important processes”

A company called Psychological Dimensions now handles assessments for new hires and those transferred from other departments. Public Safety Psychologist Heather McElroy says a 3C score means there are potential issues and more information is needed, but it’s not an automatic disqualification.

“I think the psychological assessment is one of the most important processes,” McElroy said.

McElroy said that due to current Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification standards, she is able to make recommendations, but not a final decision on whether an officer is fit to serve or not. POST stipulates that a prospective officer must pass a psychological evaluation but does not require them to pass or achieve a certain mark, leaving it to each police department to determine what is allowed.

“There’s nothing stopping an agency from hiring candidates who have received a D or F grade,” McElroy said.

Denver7 Investigates asked a city spokesperson if he knew why the commission decided not to disqualify applicants who scored a 3C- on the exam and was told there was no record. a formal discussion or a vote by the committee.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable that there are no records,” Jurinsky said.

Diversity questions

Jurinsky said she believes the testing standards are tied to an effort to diversify the Aurora Police Department.

“I think this push for diversity, equity, and inclusion has taken over the hiring process, and we’re not hiring the best people at Aurora anymore,” Jurinsky said. “People need to understand these officers, these bad actors, they are not hired by the police.”

McNeal flatly disagrees with this belief.

“No, I don’t believe we lowered the test scores to get more diversity,” he said.

Jurinsky pointed to the city’s creation of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2020, the same year the internal emails regarding test results were sent.

But McNeal said there are other reasons for the lack of diversity in the department.

“There’s a mistrust between communities of color in the city and the police department right now,” he said. “I think it hurts the number of applicants we get who are diverse.”

Denver7 Investigates also obtained a spreadsheet through an open records request that lists applicants’ first and last names, ethnic backgrounds, and JSA scores. Out of hundreds of applicants, the analysis revealed that the city had hired 11 officers from that particular list with a 3C-JSA rating.

Of those 11, four identified as people of color, with the remaining seven identifying as white.

The latest Aurora Police figures show white officers make up 76% of the department. Nearly 12% identify as Hispanic and about 5% identify as Black.

Those numbers don’t match the city’s demographics, as only 44% of Aurora people identify as white (not Hispanic or Latino), nearly 30% identify as Hispanic, and 17% identify as black, according to census figures.

For comparison, 63% of Denver Police Department officers identify as white, while demographic data shows that 55% of Denver residents identify as white (not Hispanic or Latino).

Changes along the way

Acting Aurora Police Chief Art Acevedo has led departments in other major cities across the United States, including Houston and Miami. But he says his current job is the first where he hasn’t had the final say over new hires.

“Other agencies where I’ve worked as chief of police, I have to make that final decision, the final hiring decision,” he said.

At Aurora, Acevedo doesn’t meet new recruits until their first day at the academy, which he says creates difficulties for the department. He said he doesn’t think the current model is good.

“If the department is to be held accountable, we need a bigger voice and a bigger say in who gets hired,” Acevedo said.

From next year, Acevedo will get what he wants. The commission chairman said they are changing the rules to give both Aurora police and fire chiefs final approval of new hires.

The Public Service Commission will continue to certify a list of qualified applicants, but under rule changes, will work in partnership with the police department and human resources to determine new hires, according to a city spokesperson.

“The acting chief will have more of a say,” McNeal said. “It will happen.”

McNeal said the commission was created to avoid nepotism and feared it could be a problem in the future.

“The civil service will remain a sort of watchdog group to try to prevent this kind of thing from happening,” McNeal said.

An email from the city also says the commission will remain active in disciplinary hearings for officers and maintain a vital role within the city.

McNeal said the commission doesn’t necessarily agree with all the changes, but it will continue to work hard for the city.

“I think the Public Service Commission and both departments (police and fire) are working hard to regain the public’s trust,” McNeal said. “I think it’s a process.”



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