The recent spate of violence against police officers in Colorado is alarming, but one officer said it’s not a reason for them to “rethink” their jobs.
Since Halloween, there have been 11 officer-involved shootings along the Front Range.
Last week, Denver police officer Tony Lopez was shot multiple times during a traffic stop. He’s still recovering from his injuries.
The week prior, an Aurora police officer was struck in the head with a meat cleaver after stopping to help what he thought was a stranded motorist.
Police say the attacker then jumped into the officer’s car and drove toward the officer, who then fired several shots at the suspect.
Fellow officers caught up with the suspect and shot him after he failed to heed their commands to stop and raise his hands. They said the suspect had something in his right hand.
And on Sunday, a Mountain View police officer used deadly force during a traffic stop, after the driver got out of his car with a shotgun.
“Nothing about that traffic stop was routine,” said Officer Kirk Firko, of the Mountain View Police Department.
Firko, who’s been in law enforcement for nearly 15 years, told Denver7 that he’s never had to use deadly force, but has had to use force.
He said he was on patrol earlier this year, when he made contact with an individual who committed a pedestrian violation.
“Normally, it would have just resulted in a conversation,” the officer said. “But he had some outstanding warrants and tried to run.”
Firko gave chase.
“We ended up fighting in the middle of Sheridan Boulevard with traffic driving around us,” he said. “It was a life-threatening situation, putting yourself in the way of another speeding bullet, in this case, a car.”
Firko, who comes from a family of law enforcement officers, said those situations can occur at any given time and any given place.
“Just because you live in a small town doesn’t mean you’re immune from violent crime or from being subjected to a violent attack, when someone is trying to take your life.”
Firko said all the recent events have had an impact.
“I leave my home every day and come to work with what I view as a healthy fear,” he said. “That sixth sense that gets ingrained into you… If you don’t have that healthy fear, then you’re missing something.”
Firko also said officers sometimes see the worst in people.
When asked if the seemingly escalating violence makes him want to rethink his job, Firko said, “I don’t think it makes me rethink it, but it’s a stark reminder to maintain the highest level of vigilance and to remember that nothing in this job is routine.”
Firko said it’s events elsewhere, like North Charleston, South Carolina (where an officer shot and killed an unarmed man who was running away from his car) that is leading some people to lash out at police.
“They feel empowered by what has taken place to either assault or attempt to kill police officers across the country,” he said. “That’s been demonstrated with the ambush murder of two New York police officers while they sat in their police car.”
Firko said those people don’t know the officers they’re attacking or shooting, “they’re just lashing out at the badge.”
He acknowledged that there are some bad officers, “but they’re a very small percentage,” he said.
Firko told Denver7 that all the attacks and shootings add to the stress that every police officer faces.
“You never know, when that call for service comes, if the nature of what you’re responding to is the real nature of what is taking place,” he said.
When asked how he copes with the stress, he said, “It’s something you have to balance. That’s why we train.”
He said sometimes the stress ends up at home and can affect family life.
The Mountain View police officer said if people were raised to respect each other and held themselves accountable, there would be far fewer problems.
“Everyone needs to take a step back and remember that we’re all human beings. We not rolled off assembly lines,” he said. “If everyone steps back and says ‘I need to respect my fellow human being more than I have,’ I think a lot can change.”