After three decades of serving the residents and officers of her hometown, Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman plans to retire in August from the department that launched her “fantastic career.”
The 47-year-old Aurora native announced her “bittersweet” decision in a Facebook post Monday, saying she is taking time to figure out her next steps.
“I am fortunate that several opportunities have come my way, and I’m also pursuing some new adventures of my own,” Ziman wrote.
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the love and support you have given our police department and me during the great times and the horrific ones,” she continued. “It has been the most incredible privilege and honor of my life to serve as your police chief, and no matter where my journeys take me, Aurora will always be my home.”
Ziman’s last day is Aug. 6, the week after she completes her 30th year with the department on July 29.
A graduate of West Aurora High School, she was hired in 1991 as a police cadet when she was 17 years old and joined the force as a sworn officer three years later, according to her biography on the city’s website.
She worked in patrol, field training, community policing and investigations before being promoted to sergeant in 2003. She later served as lieutenant, then commander, before being named the top cop of the state’s second-largest city in 2016.
The first female chief in Aurora’s history, Ziman created a robust list of goals upon her hiring, she wrote in her Facebook post, the first of which was putting together a team that would bring forward “a diversity of culture and thought.”
“Together we were able to progress our police department in many ways,” she said. “We updated our antiquated policies and implemented a consistent system of accountability.”
Officers now focus on crime reduction and positive outcomes, rather than meeting quotas on tickets and arrests, Ziman said, and under her leadership, the department became more diverse than ever before.
She prioritized the mental health and well-being of officers, encouraging them to “show up exactly as who they are” and ask for help when needed, she said. Ziman also implemented virtual reality training, drones that help search for missing people and a real-time crime center expected to be completed before she leaves.
But her greatest accomplishment -- the goal that has been the most difficult to quantify -- has been building relationships within the community.
“Our officers and our caring citizens have come together on so many occasions to solve problems and combat crime,” Ziman said. “And that engagement will continue long after I walk out the door.”
Ziman experienced the worst day of her career on Feb. 15, 2019, when a gunman opened fire at Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, killing five employees and injuring five officers, she said. The mass shooting thrust the chief into the national spotlight as she led the department and the city through the tragedy.
The second-worst day occurred last summer, she said, when a peaceful demonstration protesting the death of George Floyd turned violent, resulting in millions of dollars of damage to the downtown.
“Those moments were excruciating, but they made our police department and our community more resilient because iron sharpens iron,” Ziman said. “Strength and resilience are built in moments that test us.”
Having built a “very deep bench of talent,” she said, she believes she is leaving the department in good hands.
“There are many skilled individuals who will step in and take over where I left off,” Ziman said. “I hope that I have knocked down doors for others to walk through.”