The tragic death of Fountain police Officer Julian Becerra in the line of duty last month was a disturbing reminder not only of Colorado’s crime wave — but also of the toll it is taking on members of law enforcement.
The men and women who serve and protect our communities face constant danger from armed, reckless criminal perpetrators who frequently show indifference to the value of their own lives — or anyone else’s.
In many cases, these lawbreakers are repeat offenders with an extensive history. They cycle in and out of the revolving door on Colorado’s justice system.
Becerra was involved in a high-speed pursuit of suspected auto thieves who turned out to have lengthy criminal records. After they crashed their stolen vehicle and attempted to flee on foot, Becerra gave chase and fell 40 feet from a bridge. He died from his injuries nine days later.
It is only the latest killing of a Colorado law officer that unravels a false narrative — that perpetrators who encounter police are the ones in harm’s way. The reality all too often is that it is the law enforcement personnel who pay the ultimate price.
Recently, misleading media headlines decried, “39 killed by law enforcement in Colorado.”
Buried in those stories was the fact that in almost every case the person was threatening a victim, the public or the police officer with a gun, knife or other weapon. In every case like these, the officer must determine, sometimes in a split second, whether the criminal threatens the life of another, and in at least 34 of those cases in 2021, the person was armed with a gun or knife. These situations have deadly consequences for Colorado’s peace officers.
Just last September, Officer Dillon Vakoff of the Arvada Police Department was shot to death responding to a domestic disturbance.
A month earlier, El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Peery, a SWAT team member, was shot and killed responding to a reported shooting south of Colorado Springs. Arvada Police Officer Gordon Beesley was shot to death in the city’s Olde Town in June 2021 by an assailant who targeted and ambushed the officer. And Boulder police officer Eric Talley was among the 10 shot and killed at a King Soopers store in that city in March 2021.
Meanwhile, a man who had fired multiple shots at Longmont police before an officer was able to stop him — by hitting him with his police cruiser — pleaded guilty recently in Boulder District Court to two counts of first-degree assault on a peace officer.
All parties survived that incident, and the shooter could spend up to 60 years in prison.
In recent years, too many members of law enforcement have been unfairly characterized as violent or uncaring. While there are some cops who have crossed the line and should be held accountable for abuse of their powers and position, they are the exceptions, not the rule. The overwhelming majority of peace officers are good, hardworking Americans dedicated to protecting and serving their communities, sometimes at the cost of their lives or well-being.
Colorado’s law officers overwhelmingly carry out their duties by the book and live up to their awesome responsibility to protect all our civil rights — even as they also protect us from crime.
As the mayors of two Colorado communities, we believe our dedicated public servants in law enforcement are at extreme risk from a criminal element that has been emboldened and, often enough, set free to wreak more havoc by a lax justice system.
The suspects Officer Becerra was pursuing were repeat felony offenders who faced multiple active warrants for their arrest. They simply shouldn’t have been out on our streets.
The suspect alleged to have been driving the vehicle was wanted at the time on charges including motor vehicle theft and felony criminal mischief.
He had walked away from a halfway house where he was confined after serving a mere six months of an 18-month prison sentence for possession of a weapon by a previous offender.
And he had done lengthy prison time before that for drug and robbery charges. One of his alleged cohorts in the Feb. 2 pursuit also was wanted for other crimes.
It’s all too typical of so many cases in which police put their lives on the line when they encounter violent criminal suspects.
And it stems to a significant degree from legislation in the past few years that has watered down the consequences for criminal behavior. Penalties have been reduced — for drug possession, auto theft and other crimes. And suspects with serious records who are arrested for equally serious new crimes are too frequently released rather than held in jail.
They are a threat to all the law-abiding members of our communities. That’s common knowledge by now.
What isn’t so well known is how often Colorado’s law officers must risk in facing these dangerous criminals. Members of law enforcement, at times, are all that stand between the criminal element and the rest of the community. This is why we call it, “The thin blue line.”
Yes, that’s their job — but our elected lawmakers shouldn’t make their job even harder by undermining Colorado’s justice system.
Sharon Thompson is mayor of the city of Fountain. Marc Williams is the mayor of the city of Arvada.