Hundreds lined Aurora streets Sunday for the city's Pride Parade, though the event was nearly canceled after controversy that organizers did not secure enough law enforcement officers required for the event.
"It’s been just up and down, up and down, a lot of work, a lot of stress, but we finally pulled it off," said Gwyn Ciesla, President of Aurora Pride.
In the lead up to the parade, organizers and the Aurora Police Department continued to spar over what law enforcement representation would look like at the event.
Last month, Aurora Pride Parade organizers asked that law enforcement officers "participate without service weapons (our rules forbid all weapons), out of uniform, and without the presence of any official vehicles."
Organizers of the parade said they had made the uniform and weapon requests because they wanted to make the parade "the most welcoming environment possible," and said that “trust between police and LGBTQ people and people of color” is extremely low.
"Many members of the community feel uneasy in the presence of official law enforcement vehicles, as well as uniformed officers, due to negative experiences they themselves or someone they know have had," organizers said in a letter to police.
The Aurora Police Department earlier this week said it could not supply enough sworn officers to provide Parade security. Organizers appealed the decision, saying in a statement Wednesday, "Our position has been misrepresented, and we’re making every effort to keep the parade as scheduled."
Aurora Pride organizers had offered a compromise to police after announcing the decision to not allow officers to march while carrying weapons or wearing their uniforms, suggesting a “soft uniform” approach instead.
"We would like to offer, additionally, that if officers have a “soft uniform”, something like a polo shirt with patch or logo, we would absolutely accept that," the letter said.
Aurora Mayor and Illinois gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin said police in the city rejected the proposal. As a result of the request, Irvin said he would not participate in the city’s Pride Parade, and that the city will withdraw its float.
As of May 3, the department said it "attempted to hire as many officers as possible to work with the Pride Parade," but they are still short of the minimum number of officers needed to ensure the overall safety of the parade.
Last Tuesday, the Aurora Police Department said it would be unable to meet the staffing needs for the event.
"Unless the additional officers are secured shortly," the department's statement read, "APD cannot recommend to the City that the event can proceed as planned."
According to officials, the privately run event applied for a special event permit in January through the city of Aurora. As part of the permitting process, event organizers must work with the Aurora Police Department to determine a public safety plan based on the size and scope of the event. After that, the department determines the number of officers needed to ensure public safety.
According to the statement, "During the initial review process for the Pride Parade, the Aurora Police Department determined that the Aurora Pride Organization was responsible for retaining law enforcement officers based on the requested parade route, the number of street closures, the size of the parade, anticipated number of spectators, the number of officers needed to ensure the overall public safety of the event, and any other safety concerns."
The statement went on to say that staffing for privately run special events requires law enforcement to work outside of their regularly assigned duties, and that extra jobs and overtime shifts are voluntary.
The department said due to a number of reasons, these special events are difficult to hire for.
"The Aurora Police Department has seen a significant increase in the need to hire overtime shifts to cover staff shortages, sick calls, and vacation time to ensure that the department has enough officers on patrol to respond to emergency calls and incidents throughout our city," the statement says.
"Over the past few years, we have seen substantial changes with many officers wishing to spend more time with their family and friends and less time volunteering to work beyond their regularly scheduled shifts. As a result, we often have trouble hiring overtime shifts to cover our patrol division or for officers to work special events."
On Thursday, a judge refused to reinstate the special event permit for the Aurora Pride Parade, but city officials worked with the police department to secure additional officers for the event.
Later in the day Thursday, Aurora reinstated a permit for the Pride Parade, saying the event can proceed "as planned."
"The City didn’t just double down on our efforts; we tripled down by offering an unprecedented triple-time financial incentive to our officers, and the required number of police officers to secure the parade has been successfully attained," the City of Aurora said in a statement.
For Sunday's parade, Aurora offered triple-time pay to police officers who worked the event.