Colorado Springs police officers may face greater danger in the city’s “safer” neighborhoods than in the traditionally rougher parts of town, criminal justice experts say.
Whether that was a factor early Thursday when Colorado Springs police officer Cem Duzel was gravely wounded by a gunman is unknown. But the shootout a few blocks east of the Olympic Training Center was outside a high-density crime area to the south along East Platte Avenue, said YongJei Lee, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Duzel was shot near East Boulder Street and Bonfoy Avenue, shortly after officers responded to multiple reports of shots fired.
The suspect was shot by officers and had nonlife-threatening injuries.
“This is not a place where socioeconomic status is pretty bad; it’s pretty much a decent place,” said Lee, who focuses on crime prevention and police effectiveness in the university’s School of Public Affairs.
The nearest so-called criminal hot spot in that area tracks East Platte Avenue from North Meade Avenue east to Platte Place, according to a map Lee created.
Police departments tend to devote more resources to high-crime areas, Lee said, a tactic the Colorado Springs department followed in combating violence, drug dealing and burglaries in the southeast part of the city. Officers also tend to be more on guard when patrolling those areas.
But the tactic can also mean that officers are spread thinner in less dangerous areas.
“The officers are pretty much at risk because their resources are a little bit less outside a hot spot,” Lee said.
And, Lee and former officers said, criminals know when an area is too hot for them.
It’s a scenario UCCS criminal justice professor Richard Radabaugh said he saw decades ago when he was a Colorado Springs police officer.
“Having worked Nevada Avenue in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when I was a police officer, street walkers were really prevalent there,” Radabaugh said.
Concerned residents and business owners called the department and the officers stepped in, but the street walking didn’t end, it only moved.
“They concentrated a lot of resources in that area and all it did was transfer farther up town. It migrated from South Nevada to North Nevada,” he said.
Another factor that can put officers at risk is increasing animosity from some members of the public, according to Pete Klismet, a former FBI criminal profiler. Much of that attitude shift can be attributed to social media, cellphones and viral police videos shared without context, he said.
But a lot also relies on the criminals, Klismet said. More often than not, someone who shoots at an officer will be male.
“They have been involved in criminal behavior before, probably violent criminal behavior,” he said. “Assaults, maybe even shootings. Maybe even stabbings.”
Domestic violence offenses also strongly indicate someone might commit future acts of violence, Klismet said.
The profile also includes heavy doses of anger and impulsiveness, Klismet said. The impulsivity tends to be natural or inherent, while the anger is a learned behavior.
Those traits and others — combined with a nationwide increase in animosity toward law enforcement — can lead to shootings, Klismet said.
Radabaugh said disrespect toward police isn’t prevalent locally.
“Colorado Springs just doesn’t have that sort of animus towards local police,” he said.
“Here, we haven’t had any big demonstrations against the police and haven’t had a controversial killing in the last 10 years,” he said.
Colorado Springs has also become a bigger city in recent years. Crime has gone up, but the number of police officers hasn’t kept pace with the population growth.
According to the U.S Census, Colorado Springs’ population grew from 416,427 in 2010 to an estimated 464,474 in 2017. And state and local officials have predicted that El Paso County will gain more than 400,000 residents by 2050.
Between 2015 and 2016, rape, motor vehicle thefts and robberies increased about 21 percent, 20 percent and 16 percent, respectively, The Gazette previously reported. In all the number of major crimes reported in the city increased by 1.16 percent.
This year, Mayor John Suthers has committed to hiring 100 police officers in the coming years with general fund money freed by the recent resurrection of stormwater fees for property owners.
Another approach is to change the way officers are dispatched, Radabaugh said. About 95 percent of Colorado Springs police officers are actively fighting crime, a high number compared to most other departments.
“They could reduce the number of nonemergency calls that they go on,” Radabaugh said. “If someone gets their garden hose stolen, do you really need a cop to go out there? Save your resources for more serious calls.”