As­saults of of­fi­cers on rise in Colo.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Noelle Phillips

Po­lice of­fi­cers and sher­iff’s deputies in Colorado are in­creas­ingly un­der phys­i­cal at­tack, ac­cord­ing to new crime sta­tis­tics, and they blame a num­ber of fac­tors.

A swelling pop­u­la­tion, an over­all in­crease in crime, more in­ter­ac­tions with the men­tally ill, ris­ing drug abuse and grow­ing hos­til­ity to­ward po­lice are among the rea­sons for the in­crease in as­saults cited by law en­force­ment.

“It’s layer upon layer,” said Steve John­son, chief deputy at the Dou­glas County Sher­iff’s Of­fice. “They just con­trib­ute to a volatile sit­u­a­tion in which law en­force­ment of­fi­cers are the first line of de­fense. They have to go in and ad­dress those things.”

per­cent As­sault­slaw in­creased en­force­ment­be­tween against nearly2012 Coloradoof­fi­cers and 42 2016, ac­cord­ing to the Colorado Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion’s an­nual crime re­port, which was re­leased Wed­nes­day.

“I do feel like with what has been go­ing on across the na­tion the last sev­eral years, there are more peo­ple who are will­ing to be re­sis­tant to po­lice,” said Alam­osa Po­lice Chief Duane Oakes, the pres­i­dent of the Colorado As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice.

The ris­ing num­ber of as­saults against of­fi­cers comes as Colorado’s over­all crime rate is in­creas­ing too. In 2016, Colorado’s over­all crime rate rose 3.4 per­cent per 100,000 peo­ple, the CBI re­ported.

The ris­ing over­all crime rate was blamed, in part, on the state’s fast-grow­ing pop­u­la­tion. And some be­lieve in­creas­ing al­ter­ca­tions with po­lice go hand in hand with in­creas­ing lev­els of crime. “When crime goes up, as­saults on po­lice of­fi­cers go up,” said Sgt. Bob Wes­ner, pres­i­dent of the Aurora Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion. In 2016, 1,172 Colorado of­fi­cers were as­saulted and 641 were in­jured, the CBI’s Crime in Colorado 2016 re­port said. In 2012, 827 of­fi­cers were as­saulted and 511 were in­jured, the re­port said.

CBI data on law en­force­ment as­saults re­lies on sta­tis­tics re­ported by 244 agen­cies in the state. How­ever, not ev­ery agency col­lects as­sault data, in­clud­ing the Aurora Po­lice De­part­ment. And the data com­piled re­lies on of­fi­cers to fill out re­ports, which some don’t do if they be­lieve the at­tacker had no ill in­ten­tion. For ex­am­ple, an of­fi­cer might shrug off a push or slap from a per­son strug­gling with men­tal ill­ness or de­men­tia. In 2016, a few es­pe­cially vi­o­lent at­tacks against of­fi­cers made head­lines: Dou­glas County sher­iff’s Det. Dan Brite was shot in the chest while re­spond­ing to a re­port of a sui­ci­dal man, and Aurora Of­fi­cer Eric Or­tiz was shot in the face while ap­proach­ing a sus­pect af­ter re­ports of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. But most of­fi­cers are at­tacked in less lethal ways. In the as­saults that were re­ported in 2016, most of the of­fi­cers — 830 — were hit, kicked or punched, and the at­tacks of­ten oc­curred as of­fi­cers were re­spond­ing to dis­tur­bances, at­tempt­ing ar­rests or han­dling pris­on­ers, ac­cord­ing to the CBI re­port. Last month, the Aurora Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion, the union that rep­re­sents rankand-file of­fi­cers, awarded an of­fi­cer for his ac­tions in an as­sault that never made head­lines, Wes­ner said. Of­fi­cer Hay­den Jon­s­gaard en­coun­tered a man who was high on drugs and was com­bat­ive with of­fi­cers, who tried to shock him with a stun gun. But the man con­tin­ued to re­sist and tried to choke Jon­s­gaard, who had to fight to free him­self, Wes­ner said. “That’s a prime ex­am­ple of an as­sault on a po­lice of­fi­cer that peo­ple don’t know about,” he said. “The pub­lic hears about them when the as­saults in­volve guns or knives and of­fi­cers are se­verely in­jured.” In Den­ver, there were 183 as­saults on of­fi­cers in 2016, a 74 per­cent jump in five years, ac­cord­ing to data on sim­ple and ag­gra­vated as­saults pro­vided by the de­part­ment. “As­saults on po­lice of­fi­cers are just un­ac­cept­able, and it’s dis­heart­en­ing that of­fi­cers are be­ing killed and in­jured while work­ing to pro­tect their com­mu­ni­ties,” the de­part­ment’s pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fice said in an emailed state­ment. The state­ment also said it’s im­pos­si­ble to pre­vent all as­saults, but the po­lice de­part­ment does all it can to help of­fi­cers re­solve dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions. Frank Gale, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Colorado Po­lice Of­fi­cers Foun­da­tion and a spokesman for the Colorado Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice, said even mi­nor as­saults take a toll on de­part­ments through lost man­power and the trauma that can even­tu­ally lead to post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. The foun­da­tion in­creas­ingly is asked to pro­vide ser­vices to of­fi­cers to help them cope with the job, he said. The FOP does not col­lect data on as­saults, but Gale said mem­bers talk about the vi­o­lence. “Peo­ple are more con­fronta­tional when they’re en­coun­tered by law en­force­ment,” Gale said. “They’re more un­co­op­er­a­tive and more re­sis­tant and act out more vi­o­lently.” More and more po­lice de­part­ments are giv­ing their of­fi­cers cri­sis in­ter­ven­tion train­ing to help them nav­i­gate the volatile sit­u­a­tions they en­counter with peo­ple suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness, Oakes said. It’s nec­es­sary for law en­force­ment agen­cies to im­prove com­mu­nity re­la­tions to help re­duce at­tacks on of­fi­cers. Peo­ple are less likely to re­sist when they know and trust the of­fi­cers, Oakes said. While as­saults against of­fi­cers are on the rise in Colorado, the num­ber of of­fi­cers killed while on duty re­mains rel­a­tively low. of­fi­cer­sIn 2016, were three killed Coloradoin the fourline of in duty2015 and com­pare­done in 2014.with Line-of-duty deaths in­clude of­fi­cers killed in car wrecks and from as­saults or med­i­cal prob­lems that are re­lated to work. No Colorado law en­force­ment of­fi­cer had been killed in the line of duty this year as of June 30, al­though the deaths num­ber­has ac­cord­ing in­creasedof to of­fi­cera na­tion­ally, re­port the Na­tional re­leased Law Thurs­day En­force­mentby Of­fi­cers Memo­rial Fund. Sixty-five fed­eral, state and lo­cal of­fi­cers were killed on the job across the U.S. dur­ing the first six months of 2017, com­pared with 50 dur­ing the same pe­riod last year, the re­port said. Of the 65 deaths this year, 26 were killed in traf­fic ac­ci­dents, 23 were killed by gun­fire and 16 died of other causes such as suf­fer­ing car­diac ar­rest on the job, stab­bings, drown­ings and three who died as a re­sult of ill­nesses con­tracted dur­ing the 9/11 res­cue ef­forts.

Daniel Petty, Den­ver Post file

Po­lice pack up af­ter an al­ter­ca­tion be­tween a sus­pect and an off-duty of­fi­cer in 2013.

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