Attacks against police leave cloud over Aurora officers, reinforces cautiousness

173

AURORA | Fueled by ambush attacks in Louisiana and Texas, fatal shootings of police officers are up 78 percent compared to the first of 2015, according to a report released last week.

The report, from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, said there have been 32 firearms-related fatalities this year compared to 18 last year.

on Monday Nov. 30, 2015 at Aurora Police Department Headquarters. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel“All American citizens should be outraged at the number of officers who have been targeted, shot and killed this year,” the fund’s President and CEO Craig W. Floyd said in a statement. “The brutal assassinations of law enforcement officers in Texas and Louisiana shocked our nation and we saw similar ambush attacks on officers in other parts of the country earlier this year.”

All police fatalities — which include traffic crashes as well as shootings — are up 8 percent compared to the same stretch in 2015, the report said.

Aurora hasn’t lost a police officer in the line of duty in almost a decade. The last officer killed in the line of duty was Officer Douglas Byrne, who died after crashing his police cruiser in the spring of 2007.

Just a few months prior to that, in the fall of 2006, Detective Mike Thomas was gunned down at East Montview Boulevard and Peoria Street, the only Aurora officer shot and killed on duty in Aurora in almost 30 years.

So far this year, three Colorado officers have died in the line of duty. Sheriff’s deputies in Mesa and Park counties were gunned down earlier this year, and a Las Animas deputy died in a traffic crash.

Though APD has not seen a death in the line of duty, local officers have been attacked in the past year. Most notably, a suspect who was pulled over during a traffic stop in late November 2015 used a wooden-handled cleaver to attack an officer near Interstate 225 and Alameda Avenue. The officer survived, while the suspect was killed by other officers after a high-speed chase.

That attack came only two months after APD was again reminded to be on alert after someone made a 911 call threatening local officers, claiming “we are about to start striking fear shooting down all cops that we see by their selves.”

After the calls, Aurora Police Chief Nicholas Metz called it “an incredibly intense and challenging time for law enforcement.”

“When violence, or threats of violence occur towards officers, we take it very seriously, because I expect my officers to go home safe to their families at the end of their shift,” Metz said.

Many departments around the country have taken extra steps to ensure officer safety in light of the recent spate of attacks, including having officers pair up instead of riding alone.

Los Angeles police assigned members of specialized crime-fighting units to back up officers responding to routine calls. Baltimore police began sending two squad cars to every call received. Dispatchers in Denver urged officers to travel in pairs indefinitely and “keep their head on a swivel” to protect themselves.

The new safety measures are some of the most intense since the Sept. 11 attacks, said Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association. Los Angeles also ordered more of its helicopters to patrol the skies. Officers elsewhere were told to keep their guard up, especially around police stations.

“You’re on the street eight, 10, 12 hours. Remaining with that heightened sense of alertness for that entire time is a pretty big challenge,” Stephens said. “Doubling up those officers helps them keep track of each other and helps them feel a sense of safety.”

Locally, police have been quiet about the steps they’ve taken in light of the July ambush shootings in Baton Rouge and Dallas.

Aurora police spokeswoman Officer Diana Cooley said the department wouldn’t discuss whether they are assigning two officers per patrol car, claiming that information could put officers in danger.

“We never discuss tactics,” she said.

In Arapahoe County, the sheriff’s office said the same thing.

“For the safety of our deputies, we generally do not discuss tactical changes in patrol staffing or patterns,” said Julie Brooks, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. “We do monitor and react to legitimate threats in a way that protects both our deputies and our community.”

Aurora police Sgt. Bob Wesner, president of the Aurora Police Association, the department’s largest officer union, said the recent shootings leave a cloud over all law enforcement.

“It’s very subdued here,” he said. “We’re very vigilant in what it is that we do, and I think there is less proactive community work because of them.”

Wesner said that response times could be longer than normal because officers are opting not to respond to calls alone and are waiting for back up.

“It’s more just taking care of each other and not going to dangerous calls by themselves,” he said.

Wesner said he is confident that with more outreach to the community, the relationship between police and the community will improve.

“Working with the community is going to get it resolved,” he said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.