JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund released its 2022 fatalities report. The results show that while overall line-of-duty deaths are dramatically down, firearm deaths mirror 2021 and remain significantly higher than the average of firearm-related deaths in the previous decade.
Firearm-related deaths claimed the lives of 64 police officers in 2022, contributing to a roughly 21% increase from the average of 53 per year between 2010 to 2020, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund.
While Colorado is not the deadliest state for law enforcement, it’s one of the most dangerous for officers when it comes to assaults and injuries. That information was discovered by the FOX31 Data Desk.
A local investigator is putting her fitness to the test to help fallen Colorado officers and their families. Dee Patterson has been in law enforcement for 25 years, spending 15 of those as a school resource officer, and said she’s witnessed violence get worse over time.
Patterson is currently an investigator with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and is preparing for a special walk to honor and remember those killed in the line of duty. This year, Patterson is walking for fallen Arvada Officer Dillon Vakoff.
For the past two months, Patterson has been cranking up the intensity and hitting the gym at 4:30 a.m. on weekdays and walking miles on local trails on weekends to train for the C.O.P.S. walk.
C.O.P.S. dates back to the 1980s and stands for Concerns of Police Survivors. With chapters across the nation, the organization offers counseling and programs to families and children who’ve lost someone in the line of duty. Next month, teams will gather in Arizona and walk 25 miles in 48 hours.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Patterson. “There’s maybe 50 people but the stories, the laughter, the comradery, it’s just amazing and it just shows that strength.”
The walk is a step towards healing for many and a chance for strangers to bond and share similar stories of grief.
Patterson said she walked last year in honor of two fallen Colorado officers and was on the fence about participating this year until she learned of Vakoff’s death. The 27-year-old was shot and killed in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2022, while responding to a home disturbance.
“His motto was that others may live, and it really struck a chord with me,” said Patterson. “That’s why we all do this job. It’s like a thread that holds us together.”
Inspired by everything he was and accomplished during his short time on Earth and with Vakoff’s parents’ blessing, Patterson has named her team after Vakoff’s motto, “that others may live,” and will walk the journey in his honor.
With the walk roughly six weeks away, Patterson is still fundraising. Right now, Patterson and her team have raised $6,200 and have a goal of $7,500. If you’d like to donate, visit the fundraising site.
“I want them to remember our fallen and remember the families,” Patterson said.
The C.O.P.S. walk will be held in Buckeye, Arizona from Feb. 24-26.