Littleton police chief reflects on rough weeks

Summer brings crime, and sometimes seemingly all at once. From the Littleton Independent.

Two armed confrontations. An officer hit with an allegedly stolen car. Two officer-involved shootings. A suspect dead and two more on the loose. An officer missing overseas. The end of June was eventful for Littleton police. “It's been pretty chaotic around here,” Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens said. The flurry of events began in mid-June, when Officer Steven Beare went missing while mountain-climbing in Russia. Official search efforts were called off on June 29. Things ramped up on the home front on June 23, when Eric Ray Weston, a fugitive sexual predator on the run from Florida, allegedly pulled a gun on two women before stealing a car. He was eventually arrested at a bus station in California. On June 28, a woman in a car that was suspected of having been stolen hit an officer while fleeing police near a dollar store on Belleview Avenue. The officer fired his gun at the suspect, who escaped. Police say they have arrested a suspect on warrants whom they believe is connected, but she has not yet been charged in the incident. The following night, a man reported that his car was stolen by two women and two men, one of whom fired a gun in the course of the robbery. The two female suspects led officers from Littleton and Englewood on a high-speed chase in the early hours of June 30 that ended in Denver, where officers shot and killed one suspect — later identified as Stephanie Lopez, 32 — and critically wounded another. Pressure on the police Investigations into all three crimes are ongoing. “I'm not sure anyone around here can remember the last officer-involved shooting, then we had two back-to-back,” said Stephens, who has been chief in Littleton since May 2013. “On top of all that, you have the trauma that our entire organization is feeling over the missing officer, Steven Beare,” Stephens said. “That's been tough on the organization, especially on his patrol team. A lot of those officers are the same ones who were involved in the incident in Denver on Friday morning (June 30). It's a lot of stress for them to deal with.” Mayor Bruce Beckman said he does not believe the recent crimes are part of a trend. “This difficult week doesn’t carry any implication that anything has to change,” said Beckman, a former Littleton Police commander. Still, Beckman said, “the impact of a million people into the state has put tremendous pressure on law enforcement in Colorado, and particularly in the Denver metro area. Littleton’s population is up 10 percent in the last five years. Clearly, the increase in population is going to statistically create more police work.” The two officer-involved shootings are under investigation by outside entities in accordance with protocol and state law, Stephens said. The shooting outside the dollar store is being investigated by the 18th Judicial District's Critical Incident Response Team, and the shooting in Denver is being probed by a team of investigators from Denver and Aurora. In both instances, investigators will present their findings to district attorneys, who will determine the legitimacy of the officers' actions. Stephens said he was not willing to weigh in on the judgment of the officers in the shootings until he has seen the conclusions of the response teams. Stephens said investigators have thus far been unable to determine where the bullet from the shooting outside the dollar store ended up. He said the officer fired “as he was getting struck, while going over the hood.” The carjacking, chase and shooting in Denver was a much more chaotic situation, Stephens said, though he praised his officers' training. “We tried to end that pursuit as quickly as we could, especially as the speeds got over 100 miles per hour,” Stephens said. He added that officers in that incident used a PIT, or Pursuit Intervention Technique, maneuver — namely ramming the car until it stopped — that Littleton officers were formerly barred from using, but that Stephens chose to train the department on. The two male suspects in the carjacking have not been found, and Stephens said the victim was unable to provide a description beyond the fact that they were male. 'A safe community' Officers are permitted to use deadly force when they feel they or others are in imminent danger of serious injury or death, Stephens said, adding that while the department has no hard-and-fast policy on placing officers on administrative leave after a shooting, the officers involved in both incidents were on temporary leave. Stephens said taking leave after a shooting makes sense, as the officers involved aren't allowed to discuss the incident with anyone until they've given a statement to investigators. The officer who was hit outside the dollar store went on a previously scheduled vacation a few days after the incident, he said, adding that the officer can go back to active duty when he returns if he so chooses. The officers in the Denver shooting gave their statements to investigators on July 6. Stephens said all officers in officer-involved shootings are offered psychological services, and pay a visit to a gun range before returning to active duty to ensure they remain comfortable using their service weapon. Stephens said he did not know when the district attorneys would make their determination on the shootings. It's too early to tell if the flurry of high-profile crimes in late June is a fluke or evident of a trend, Stephens said, but he said Littleton remains a safe place. “We're very lucky in Littleton,” Stephens said. “We continue to be a very safe community compared to other parts of the metro area. The crime trends have stayed very flat. Our officers do everything they can to protect the community. They're well trained and well equipped, and they have great hearts. There's such strong community support for the police here, and that certainly makes things better.“