Dan Oates Is the New Sheriff in Town

Dan Oates Is the New Sheriff in Town
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Chief Dan Oates (pictured in uniform) meets with President Barack Obama after the Aurora, Colorado shootings in July 2012.

Just before noon July 20, 2012, Aurora, Colorado police chief Dan Oates stood before a microphone in the parking lot outside the suburban Century 16 movie theater where, less than 12 hours earlier, a maniac in a gas mask had thrown smoke bombs and opened fire during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.

"It is human nature to make mistakes. And this was an unfortunate mistake."

It was a clear summer day, and Oates, a hefty, serious man in his early 50s whose short-cropped gray hair was covered by a low blue police cap, was surrounded by a horde of reporters and distraught officials. His face somber and his tone authoritative, he gave the world the update it was waiting for. "Our suspect's name is James Eagan Holmes," he began. "Our best available counts on injuries as of right now — is that 71 people were shot. And that 12 are deceased."

Just short of two years later this past April 30, Miami Beach commissioners unanimously approved Oates as the city's police chief. But to most of America he'll likely always be known for the role he played in Aurora. After the massacre — which instantly went down as one of the nation's most notorious murder sprees — Oates quickly emerged as the capable face of the tragedy's widely lauded response. "Chief Oates has been dealing with a set of circumstances as difficult as any law enforcement official deals with," an emotional President Obama said minutes after meeting with the families of victims. "And he and his officers have done everything right."

But what neither the president nor any other Dan Oates backer wants to talk about — at least publicly — are the controversies the 34-year law enforcement veteran faced out West: the 2011 police shooting of three unarmed Aurora youths; the hellish June 2012 intersection stop; the discovery last June that Oates' department had accidentally destroyed DNA evidence from dozens of potential rape cases.

For Miami Beach, a city still struggling with a public image problem after its own rash of recent scandals, the Colorado controversies raise questions about whether the law-and-order hero from Aurora is the right man to lead a turnaround.

"This new chief needs to come in here and change the entire culture," says Steve Berke, an activist and former mayoral ­candidate. "I would say the reputation of the police department exists for a reason."

Oates was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, in 1955. Growing up, he "never once thought about being a cop," he says. "Ever." He studied English at Bucknell University in central Pennsylvania, where he edited the college newspaper, and upon graduation began a career in journalism, eventually landing a job as a copyeditor at Popular Mechanics. But Oates didn't like the work and planned to go to law school.

Then one day in 1979, he heard a radio ad that the New York Police Department was hiring. Oates was intrigued; he talked to an uncle on the force and decided to visit a Midtown Manhattan precinct where he found an officer at an elevated desk near the entry. "Very intimidating," Oates says. "I walk in and I ask for an application. 'Here you are, kid.' he says."

A year or so later, Oates got the job. He opted out of a law program he was scheduled to begin the same evening and then spent the next 21 years rising through the ranks of the NYPD. (He would graduate from law school in 1986.) He and his wife Nancy, a graphic designer, also adopted two girls from Paraguay, now 20 and 18, and Oates took up a new sport. "I'm a hockey nut," he says.

In 2001 he became police chief of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and four years later took the job as top cop in Aurora, a leafy, ethnically diverse city of 340,000 just east of Denver. In Oates' first week, the department carried out a massive manhunt for Aarone Thompson, a 6-year-old girl who had been reported as a runaway. But when evidence wasn't stacking up, the new chief — in a preview of his direct style — publicly challenged the girl's uncooperative parents: "If they truly care about Aarone as they say they do," Oates told a swarm of news cameras, "they need to speak to us at this time."

Several days later, police discovered the girl had in fact been dead for months; her father was eventually sentenced to 114 years for serial child abuse. Over the next five years, Oates oversaw a 30 percent crime reduction, further burnishing his reputation as an effective enforcer.

But by 2011, Aurora PD was also cementing another reputation — for heavy-handedness. Civil rights critics linked a spate of officer-involved shootings to the chief. "A fish rots from the head down," says David Lane, an attorney who has frequently sparred with Oates. "If he has a culture of tolerance of excessive force by police officers, that shows itself from time to time."

This culture was dramatically on display March 20, 2011, critics say. Late that evening, an owner of an auto repair shop called the cops to report a theft after he saw three young men loading one of his car doors onto the bed of a truck. Two officers showed up and confronted the men at the back of the lot. The unarmed robbers jumped into the truck and began to speed away, with 22-year-old Oleg Gidenko at the wheel. The officers fired more than a dozen shots: Gidenko was hit in the back of the head and killed, and another man, Yevgeniy Straystar, ended up paralyzed. Mourners and activists were outraged.

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4 comments
schotzi93
schotzi93

schotzi9322 hours ago

I am the wife of Aurora Colorado Police Officer and your Police agency just hired the Devil and everything that I am reading that he has done especially in such a short time, I am NOT shocked I thought at least it would be more than six or eight months that he would start changing everything about your police agency turning it upside down to where he only benefits or has the admiration to look like a chief doing awhile job while in turn he wants to remain at the top he'll make sure that the patrol officers pay keep low. OATES is a politician he is dangerous to any POLICE agency I even read that ex Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, once stated that Oates will charm you while stabbing you in the back.

Daniel Oates has preyed upon my husband and my family and for years he has put us through hell,my husband believe in himself and fought all the way plain OATES game when we just wanted to be left alone once my husband was cleared, clear, cleared, cleared from his shooting which OATES felt that he was not cleared what does this tell you about this man. I speak for the City of Aurora, the police officers, and some of the city employees staff and you have to trust me on this, that we are most delighted and thankful that this evil man is gone his narcissistic controlling ways us terrorizing a police agency it already has been done, and all I can say for your agency is get him out as soon as you can, I would recommend the "no confidence plan" I cannot tell you enough that he will change policies and procedures like as his Bible. He truly believes he is above the law and above God. He was in cahoots with the aurora sentinel paper fashion police officers and their lives and he was in cahoots what I would say the worst part aurora staffing by letting him get away with all that he did and now its too late. I heard rumors that they're taking their very sweet time I'm hiring a new police chief they don't want any replicas of a Daniel Oates and I'm sure they're going to look for more qualities and someone who actually was on the streets as a patrol officer and extreme background check.

schotzi93
schotzi93

The families of the Aurora Theater Shooting had no faith in him and the community is very thrilled he is gone and I can't tell you enough the he tried to break me and my family but list and this pist him off. The civil service commission cleared, cleared, and cleared a shooting in March 2011, the officers shot the vehicle going TOWARDS THEM not away like Trevor Bach states.

Oates tried to get rid of the CSC, not to get involved with hearing that Oates wanted this task.....what a narcissistic controlling freak.

I give him 6 months and he'll PISS OFF MANY PEOPLE with MB., but I heard he has already done it??

discretjohnz
discretjohnz

the bad things that happened silently hurts more, like the money that is being handled for same people... almost every single head of department has been changed in the city but finance, parking and the queen interim in charge... right there is the corruption, follow the money Phillip, follow the money....

schotzi93
schotzi93

Oh, it's gonna get worse I know him from AURORA POLICE DEPARTMENT and your Police agency just shook hands with the devil.

It's going get worse thats why he left dodge because we all caught on and the shit got real deep.

He screwed with patrol officers big time and grooms who he thinks he can trust to do his dirty work.

He is a narcissistic controlling political person. He had never been a cop, so he see's the legal aspect not someone to support you.

Good luck guys & gals, I would start "no confidence" petition before you'll see that I would never write anything but the truth.

yeah, he left a huge mess here but not in a good way but in a corrupted way.

 
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