Bayfield Marshal Joe McIntyre lamented police shootings of unarmed suspects around the country last week to town trustees, on the same day another of those shootings happened in Charlotte, N.C., and a few days after one in Tulsa, Okla.
Almost all the incidents in 2014 and 2015 happened east of the Mississippi River and reflect law enforcement practices different from those in Western states, he said.
"In December I will have been here (in Bayfield) five years," he said, and 20 years in Colorado law enforcement. "In the 1970s and '80s, the (law enforcement) focus was on drugs. In the '90s it was drugs plus gangs." In 1991, the police beating of black man Rodney King was the first such incident to be captured on video and be seen by huge numbers of people, he said.
He talked about what some have called the militarization of police with surplus military equipment, including vehicles and weapons. He cited a 1997 police shootout with gang members in North Hollywood, Calif., where the police were totally out-gunned by people with AK-47s. Surplus military equipment was opened to civilian law enforcement after that, and after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, public sentiment swung in favor of more law enforcement. Larger departments, especially in New York City, began "stop and frisk" policing. It lowered the crime rate there, McIntyre said.
The Marshal's Office has received some of this surplus military equipment, including a Humvee. McIntyre said he supports the program. The Humvee is used for public relations at community events, but it can also be used in big storms or natural disasters.
"Without vehicles like this, the San Bernardino shooters (last winter) may not have been stopped," he said. "It was a vehicle like this that helped save victims in the Orlando night club shooting."
"For 13 years (after the 9/11 terrorist attacks), law enforcement operated where things were in our favor or in the middle. Then we get the incidents where people die." He cited the 2014 deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police - Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in New York City, 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. In 2015 there was Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. In July this year, it was Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and the live-streamed phone video of the shooting death of Philando Castile in Minnesota after police stopped him for a tail light violation.
Garner died in a police choke hold. "We don't train in choke holds," McIntyre said. "We use carotid restraints. There's no physical damage. ... They (Congress) banned the use of choke holds except as a last resort to save a life. We don't use choke holds."
He called the Michael Brown shooting poor police tactics. Brown and some companions were walking in the street. "The deputy told them to get out of the street and they didn't do it. The deputy was in his car. That's a tactical disadvantage. (The deputy) placed himself in that bad position." In the riots that followed, law enforcement responded with their military surplus vehicles and camouflage or SWAT outfits.
In the Tamir Rice shooting, police were responding to a report of a kid in a park pointing a gun at someone. There were poor police tactics there too, McIntyre said, but he noted that a cop might have 1.5 seconds to react and start a response. He showed a picture of two handguns that looked almost identical. One was a BB gun like Tamir Rice had, and one was a real 9-millimeter handgun.
"They all look real. Imagine if this is in the dark and having to make the decision in 1.5 seconds," McIntyre said.
Walter Scott was running away when he was shot. "The deputy says (Scott) grabbed for his Taser. This was a bad incident. (Scott) was no longer a threat, no weapon, he was running away. We can find him later" instead of shooting, McIntyre said.
He didn't want to make a judgment on the death of Freddie Gray, who died after being transported in a police van. "Everyone is talking about de-militarizing the police. They talk about federal grant money to provide body cameras to every cop." There was enough grant money to pay for 200,000 body cameras, but there are 800,000 to 1 million cops around the country. Bayfield started using body cameras in April 2015, he said.
If body cameras are made mandatory, he asked, how will agencies that can't afford them comply?
Along with not using choke holds, Bayfield deputies have trained since 2000 in anti-bias policing, and they are trained in crisis intervention and community policing, McIntyre said. "There are many levels of community policing. You have to go out and do it. It doesn't have to be something grandiose. It's talking to people you serve."
The marshal's office has divided the town into four districts. "An officer is assigned to one of those. Once a week they have to talk to someone in the public. It can be anything. Get out of the car and talk to people. It's getting to know the community and the citizens we serve, and we want them to get to know us."
He continued, "When we train on traffic stops, especially now because of the great increase in concealed carry permits, we assume they are carrying." Referring to the Minnesota shooting death this summer, McIntyre said, "He said he had a gun and a concealed carry permit. There are things you can do (in those situations). I don't know if it's a training issue, poor tactics, a poor officer decision. It was live-streamed on Facebook."
Concealed carry permits will show up when the deputy runs a records check on the person. "In my career, I've probably had a dozen people tell me they have a gun, concealed carry. It wasn't a problem," he said.
He attributed many of these fatal incidents to lack of training. Marshal's deputies get 100-plus hours a year of training, he said.
McIntyre said the cases he mentioned were all in the eastern half of the country. In the same two-year period, there was one in Arizona and one in San Francisco, he said. He cited a police chief from the East Coast who took over a department in Colorado and said training and policing west of the Mississippi is far better than back east.
Policing is different around the country and even within Colorado, McIntyre said.
"In Bayfield we police different from Gilcrest where I came from." He lamented a tendency to lump all law enforcement agencies together as bad. "We have some very vocal folks, even in the legislature, that don't like us and would take our guns away."
He said, "We (in law enforcement) all have to be good stewards of our career. It's our responsibility to do the right thing no matter the size of the department." Local deputies "lead by example. They take their career seriously. They have the right frame of mind of what it means to put on this uniform. ... We're fortunate. We get great support from our community. We want to build on that. It would only take one incident to have the national news in our back yard. We want to build the bonds for when we need support from the community."