Police Shootings in Colorado: A Study

After the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2015, there was a national emphasis on better policies and training regarding the use of deadly force by police.

While the federal government did not know exactly how many persons were being shot and killed by police, journalists and researchers started to gather this data. Since 2015, an average of nearly 1,000 persons loose their lives in police encounters with, so far, no significant reductions.

The following are excerpts from an article published by the Denver Post early this month on police uses of deadly force in the state of Colorado.

____________________

“Throughout 2019, reporters at The Denver Post built a database of all the officer-involved shootings in the state, as well as incidents in which people died during police contact and incidents where officers were shot. The database of 67 cases includes information collected from law enforcement, prosecutors’ written reviews of incidents, body camera footage, news reports and original reporting…”

Who did police shoot?

  • The majority of those shot by police were armed with guns, though at least nine of those killed or wounded were unarmed.
  • Black people represented 10% of those killed or injured in police encounters where a subject’s race could be determined, though they make up only 5% of the state’s population.
  • Hispanic people accounted for 36% of all people killed or wounded in police encounters, though they make up 22% of the state population.
  • At least nine of those killed or injured were experiencing a mental health crisis, and eight more had a history of suicidal ideation.
  • Six people died by suicide after police fired at them, and two others died after they stopped breathing during an altercation with police.
  • Nearly all of those shot by police were men, and the majority were between the ages of 20 and 39. Six teenagers were also shot.

Of the cases with completed investigations, the actions of all but one of the officers were found legally justified by district attorneys or grand juries. 

Policies

Colorado law enforcement agencies’ policies stating when officers can shoot someone vary widely. While some are detailed and lengthy, others are broad and add little to the minimum standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court and state law.

National outrage and protests after the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., prompted a wave of reform in the way law enforcement thinks about use of force policies and training, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.

“We’re at a better place than we were six years ago,” Wexler said. “In this period of time there has been an awakening in terms of how we are rethinking all of the conventional practices we have around use of force.”

Guidelines created in 2017 by a coalition of the country’s top law enforcement groups — including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police union — lay out best practices for use of force.

The guidelines emphasize de-escalation and restrict when an officer can use deadly force. Some recommended policies include:

  • Requiring officers to de-escalate when possible.
  • Forbidding officers from shooting at or from a moving vehicle except in limited circumstances.
  • Outlining a scale or system that dictates what level of force officers can use for different types of behaviors.
  • Requiring officers to give a verbal warning they are about to shoot when possible.
  • Banning officers from firing warning shots in most circumstances.

Of the 12 large and medium agencies in Colorado that had shootings last year, only the Denver Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office met all the criteria…

Training and Culture

But good policy alone is not enough… Training also needs to evolve, as well as policing cultures that perpetuate myths about use of force…

Good training now teaches officers to slow situations and create distance between them and the person they’re contacting, if possible. If a Taser or other less lethal weapon doesn’t work, officers do not need to immediately escalate to deadly force.

“We need to train people that the sanctity of human life is more important than ‘winning’ a situation,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum.

__________________________________

Read the full article and graphs from the Denver Post HERE.