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Problem Solvers is investigating the use of force by police in a five part series. Investigative Reporter Rob Low looking at how often do the cops investigating, themselvesfind inappropriate use of force? What is the racial make-up of officers and who is on the receiving end of excessive force?  The Use of Force numbers, in depth interviews plus community input and reaction. 

Part 1: Breaking down the Denver Police Department’s use of force statistics

DENVER (KDVR) — Officer-involved shootings in Denver have risen three years in a row according to a FOX31 problem solver investigation.  

One of those shootings happened overnight on May 1 in the 3200 block of West Colfax Avenue in Denver when an officer shot William Debose. 

More is heard on the police body camera footage than can be seen because the video is dark and blurry since the officer was running. It makes it hard to determine exactly what happened, but the officer-involved was cleared by the district attorney.

“In this case, Corporal Antonson had a reasonable belief that he was defending himself from the imminent use of deadly physical force and Colorado law allows peace officers to use deadly force under these circumstance,” Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said.

McCann determined Debose pulled a handgun from his waistband during the foot chase, but that did not stop protesters from marching upset that a white police officer shot a 21-year-old black man. 

“The Colorado data actually matches up with what we see nationally. We do see the disparities on the amount of black individuals being shot by white officers,” Apryl Alexander, an associate professor at the University of Denver and member of Black Lives Matter 5280, said. 

“When we look at crime rates we don’t actually see any difference in who commits crimes so why are we seeing these disparities on who gets stopped? Who gets charged and who gets ultimately shot in these incidents?” Alexander said.

FOX31 problem solvers requested Denver’s statistics on officer-involved shootings including how many white officers and officers of color shot someone and who was shot?

In 2019, there were a total of 10 officer-involved shootings in Denver, there were eight in 2018 and six in 2017. In some cases multiple officers were involved.

Officers’ racial and gender breakdown:

White male5814
Hispanic male126
Hispanic female020
Black male110
A breakdown of the race and gender makeup of Denver police officers involved in officer-involved shootings.

Community members’ race and gender breakdown:

White male183
Hispanic male324
Hispanic female001
Black male241
Asian male020
A breakdown of the race and gender makeup of community members involved in officer-involved shootings.

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said officers involved in shootings are responding to incidents not the race or gender of a specific person.  

“It is the threat itself that’s really what drives the response. Is the threat to the officer?” he said.

Denver’s chief does support a key component of Colorado’s new police reform law. Departments are now required to track more data including who officers stop by race. Pazen believes the data may help determine if implicit or unconscious bias is ever a factor. 

Far-reaching reforms to Colorado policing are long over due according to many who fought for the changes. 

“Why is it that the Aurora theater shooter can be detained safely, but not Elijah McClain who was walking home from a store? Why is Charleston theater shooter who shot up a church of black people praying, why is he detained safely but not George Floyd?” Alexander asked. 

If you want to review the circumstances of specific shootings from the years 2017-2019 we have provided the link to the Office of the Denver Independent Monitor’s reports below.

2017 Annual Report

2018 Annual Report

2019 Annual Report