DENVER (KDVR) — Multiple recent domestic violence-related deaths in the Denver metro and Front Range areas involving police officers prompted FOX31 Problem Solvers to find out statistics on how often these types of incidents happen.

Arvada officer killed responding to couple fighting over children’s custody

Arvada Police Officer Dillon Vakoff was wearing a bulletproof vest on the morning of Sept. 11, but it wasn’t enough to save his life.

The 26-year-old was killed responding to a domestic dispute after he was allegedly shot in the head by Sonny Almanza.

The 31-year-old suspect told police he fired his AR-15 at who he thought might be a relative of his ex-girlfriend during a family argument about the custody of the couple’s two small children.

El Paso County Sheriff’s deputy shot, killed

A month earlier on Aug. 7, El Paso Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Peery was shot dead responding to a domestic violence call in Security-Widefield.

Investigators say the suspect John Paz killed himself after shooting Peery and had already shot and killed a woman when Peery arrived on the scene.

Police shoot, kill suspect after he stabbed girlfriend multiple times

Denver Police were confronted with a situation on July 15, when they were called to a townhome in the Globeville neighborhood.

Officers arrived to find a man holding his girlfriend in a chokehold, stabbing her even as police shouted at him to drop his weapon. A Denver Police officer fired one shot killing 33-year-old Chaz Gallegos, who police say refused to drop his knife.

“And what I’m most reminded of is just how hard those officers tried to in that situation, peacefully using de-escalation techniques and unfortunately, that that did not work,” Thomas said.

Most recent stats on domestic violence-related deaths

The attorney general’s office tracks domestic violence-related fatalities statewide. The most recent available stats come from the year 2020 when there were 63 deaths connected to 51 incidents.

“When law enforcement shows up at a domestic violence situation, temperatures are already high. Often there’s a fight going on or just happened. Often there’s a firearm involved,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said.

None of the fatalities that year included police officers but 27% of what are called “Near-death cases” (5 out of 19 incidents) involved officers, usually cases where the perpetrator fired his weapon at a law enforcement officer.

And in 2020, there were six deaths due to an officer killing an abuser who was threatening someone.

“I don’t believe any officer takes this job thinking that they’re going to have to take another life. It’s certainly something that we accept as a responsibility and take that very seriously. But I think every officer, you know, prays that they never find themselves confronted with that situation,” Interim Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said.

FBI stats show between 2011 and 2021 there were 47 officers nationwide killed responding to domestic violence calls, which was 8% of all on-duty officer deaths.

“What makes them (domestic violence) dangerous is a lot of times the officers aren’t getting accurate or even complete information, which isn’t the fault of anyone other than the circumstances,” Detective Sergeant Rudy Underwood with the Brighton Police Department said.

Underwood is the law enforcement representative for the state’s domestic violence fatality review board. He told FOX31, 911 dispatchers can’t share what they don’t know, like if a suspect is armed or where exactly he’s located, which were the exact circumstances for Vakoff.

“So if you look at Dillon, if you look at the news stories and you look at what he did for the community, what he did for the department what he does for his coworkers, those are all things that I think are devastating to us as law enforcement, because you just don’t replace that,” Underwood said.

Honoring officers involved in domestic violence calls

In late October, the Boulder District Attorney’s Office will host the annual Beth Haynes awards ceremony to honor law enforcement officers who’ve shown a commitment to protecting domestic violence victims.

Haynes was a Boulder Police Officer killed in 1994, responding to a domestic violence call.