Colorado and Colorado Springs, like the rest of the country, has a shortage of law enforcement officers.
“…the national trend is clear: Since 2013, the total number of working sworn officers has fallen by about 23,000. The number of officers per capita is down even more sharply, from 2.42 per 1,000 residents in 1997 to 2.17 officers per 1,000 in 2016,” explains an article by National Public Radio in December 2018.
“Recruiters blame the hot job market, as well as greater skepticism about law enforcement as a career choice. That skepticism has grown in the past few years, fed by viral videos of controversial incidents of use of force by police. Where hundreds of people used to apply for a job opening, now it’s often only a handful.”
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers ran twice on a platform of adding 120 cops just to achieve adequate staffing.
It is a dangerous job. Colorado has suffered a spate of suspects shooting officers in recent years, including those employed by Colorado Springs, El Paso County and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
In an environment hostile to law enforcement, Colorado Rep. Leslie Herod, vice chair of the Colorado House Judiciary Committee, plans legislation that would change Colorado’s “fleeing felon” law. It protects officers who use deadly force to prevent someone from escaping if they believe the suspect is dangerous.
Herod told Denver CBS 4 about her plans after two Colorado Springs officers shot and killed 19-year-old De’Von Bailey on Aug. 3 as he fled on foot, refusing orders to put his hands up.
The victim and witness in an armed robbery, involving Bailey and his cousin as suspects, told officers a man meeting Bailey’s description had a gun in his shorts. When police prepared to search for the gun, Bailey ran with his hands in or in front of his shorts.
Body camera video shows officers chasing a man who appeared to be reaching for a gun in his shorts. They had no way of knowing he would not turn and shoot. He was heading toward a park. They had no way to know he would not get away, hide behind a car and shoot at the officers or someone else. They had a man, suspected of committing a recent crime with a gun, running in a residential neighborhood while ignoring orders to show his hands.
The outcome could not be more tragic. Bailey died after gunshots entered his back and elbow. His family and friends will suffer this loss forever. God only knows what Bailey might have accomplished in maturity for the good of society.
No sane person is happy with this outcome. Officers are sworn to protect and serve and to uphold the peace. Fulfilling that mission does not include allowing an armed robbery suspect to run free among the public after refusing to raise his hands from the exact location of a concealed handgun.
A grand jury seems to agree, declining last week to indict the officers involved in Bailey’s shooting.
Nothing can reverse this horrible outcome. In a better world, Bailey would not have fled with a gun. He would have raised his hands, as ordered, to ensure police he would not draw a gun. In a better world, police would not fear for their lives each time they go to work.
The Bailey shooting exemplifies the need for our laws to protect officers who make split-second, life-or-death decisions in the interest of protecting themselves and the public. If legislators remove this protection, in response to political pressure, they will put officers at far greater risk. In doing so, they will give young men and women one more reason to avoid becoming cops.