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Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates talks to reporters, Friday, July 20, 2012, during a briefing at Aurora City Hall in Aurora, Colo., not far from the movie theater where a gunman killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens of others in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A former Aurora police chief will return to lead the department on an interim basis after the city manager fired Vanessa Wilson earlier this month, the city announced Wednesday. 

Daniel Oates, who served as chief from 2005 to 2014, will serve as the department’s interim chief and help select a permanent replacement for Wilson by the end of the year, the city said in a statement.

City Manager Jim Twombly said he chose Oates for the job because he had established trust with the community and the city’s officers and believes he would effectively manage the department. 

“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,” Twombly said in a statement.

The city’s announcement comes two weeks after Twombly fired Wilson, citing a “lack of confidence” in her ability to lead. Critics called her firing a setback for police reform and her attorneys called the move part of a “concerted campaign” by some city council members to smear Wilson, who was appointed to lead the department as it faced scrutiny over Elijah McClain’s death.  

Oates served as police chief through the aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting in July 2014, before he was hired as police chief for Miami Beach, Florida, the city said. He retired from law enforcement in 2019. 

After Oates left Aurora for Florida, he was accused of demoting one of the Aurora Police Department’s top officers in retaliation after he publicly disagreed with Oates in court testimony, Miami New Times reported in March 2016. 

A U.S. District Court judge in Denver dismissed the lawsuit against Oates, the Denver Post reported. 

In 2020, Oates wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post about the challenges in firing “underperforming” law enforcement officers. During his nine years as Aurora’s police chief, Oates said he encountered 16 officers, out of 650, whom he felt deserved to be fired. He fired four of them, and the Civil Service Commission reversed his decision in all but one case.

“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 wrote. 

Oates called for the election of leaders “with the courage to change the laws and labor agreements that are killing accountability in policing.”

Since his retirement, he has worked as a law enforcement and security consultant, working with departments like the Baltimore Police Department and St. Louis City and County police departments on crime reduction strategies and reform efforts, the city said. He has also worked at the police departments in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and New York City. 

Oates said he was “honored and flattered” by the request to lead the department again. 

“I want to help the men and women of the APD get through this critical period of reform. I also look forward to reconnecting with the wonderful Aurora community,” he said in a statement. “We’ll all need to work together to ensure a smooth transition to the new chief.”

Olivia Prentzel covers breaking news and a wide range of other important issues impacting Coloradans for The Colorado Sun, where she has been a staff writer since 2021. At The Sun, she has covered wildfires, criminal justice, the environment,...