MEDIA: Colorado police shoot people more than almost anywhere else— and local news orgs ask why

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Photo by Tony Webster for Creative Commons on Flickr

In the span of a week, Colorado Public Radio and The Denver Post, each independent of the other, published big statewide long-form, in-depth investigations into police shootings across Colorado.

The radio station spent six months looking into why cops here draw their weapons and squeeze a trigger on fellow humans just about every week on average, making Colorado fifth in the nation for officer-involved shootings. (“It’s rather embarrassing, actually,” said one state lawmaker in what already might be the most understated quote of the year.)

Billed as “the most comprehensive analysis ever reported in Colorado,” CPR looked into six years of taxpayer-supported spent shell casings, interviewed dozens of sources, and examined prosecutorial, autopsy, investigative, and toxicology reports, as part of its ambitious and illuminating reporting. The outlet also found what could be the largest settlement in Colorado history— $9 million from the city of Northglenn and its insurance carrier—for a 2017 act of gun violence by police.

From the Jan. 31 lead installment of the four-part series, called “Shots Fired,” produced by reporters Allison Sherry and Ben Markus, and overseen by editor Chuck Murphy:

Most of those shot were white, male, high on drugs — often methamphetamine — or alcohol and carrying a weapon. In many cases, the families they left behind blame police for failing to find an alternative to deadly force. But as armed assaults on police have risen, suspects often leave them with little choice. In all but two of the 309 cases in six years, officers’ actions were legally justified by district attorneys or grand juries. …

CPR News found that 48 percent of those shot by police in Colorado over six years were white, 11 percent were black and 36 percent were Latino. Other races, including Native Americans, account for the remainder. Colorado’s population is 68 percent white, 4 percent black and 22 percent Latino. Those people of color shot by police are overrepresented compared to the state’s population — but not compared to those already inside the criminal justice system. The racial breakdown among inmates in the state Department of Corrections is 46 percent white, 18 percent black and 32 percent Hispanic.

The station helpfully lays out some bullet-point stats about what its reporters uncovered, so go to the story and give them your click. The reporting isn’t all facts-and-figures, though. You’ll find narratives about certain incidents, and hear from humans throughout.

You can also explore a database CPR created about police shootings in Colorado here.

Since CPR published its investigation, impact has been swift. Responding to the coverage, lawmakers and the state’s attorney general said they are looking at ways to increase transparency around police weapon use and examine training. The station is also now keeping track of all police shootings this year.

On Sunday, Feb. 2, The Denver Post published its own investigation into police shootings in the state under a banner print headline “Use of Force.” The newspaper “tracked every police shooting in Colorado last year,” it reported online, and laid out what it learned. Reporters Elise Schmelzer and Sam Tabachnik had lead bylines, and editor Noelle Phillips oversaw the project. Shelly BradburySaja HindiKirk Mitchell, and Kieran Nicholson also contributed to the series.

From the lead report:

In all, Colorado law enforcement on average shot someone every five days in 2019, killing 36 people and wounding 28 others, The Denver Post’s analysis found. Six officers also were shot and wounded, including a Fort Lupton officer who spent 25 days in a hospital after a 19-year-old shot him in the face. Throughout 2019, reporters at The Denver Post built a database of all the officer-involved shootings in the state, as well as incidents in which people died during police contact and incidents where officers were shot. The database of 67 cases includes information collected from law enforcement, prosecutors’ written reviews of incidents, body camera footage, news reports and original reporting.

The Post also lays out the bullet points for what it found, which you should read by clicking here, and not expect me to give too much away. But I will note this: “Black people represented 10% of those killed or injured in police encounters where a subject’s race could be determined, though they make up only 5% of the state’s population. … Hispanic people accounted for 36% of all people killed or wounded in police encounters, though they make up 22% of the state population.”

Human faces behind the numbers also emerge from a narrative weaving through “dozens of families grappling with loss and the long-term impact of a shooting by police” where some “lost their homes, such as the family of a Lakewood man who barricaded himself inside and set it on fire before police barged in and killed him” while others “are raising money online for medical bills or funerals for their loved ones.”

Other installments in the Post series include how “in the aftermath of a Colorado police shooting, the public doesn’t always find out who pulled the trigger,” and how a lawsuit alleges “Denver police destroyed [a] woman’s house with [a] flammable grenade during [a] SWAT standoff.” And, like CPR, the Post discovered the nearly $9 million settlement in Northglenn related to a “federal lawsuit filed by the families of two people who were shot, one fatally and the other paralyzed for life, by police.”

The two local media investigations dropping so close together led Jack Healy, a Colorado-based New York Times national correspondent, to note how there’s “an implicit dialog happening between these two powerful projects.” But it also left him with a question: “I wonder if there could be some future collaboration drawing/building on your collective reporting?”

The work by CPR and The Denver Post also comes after Colorado Springs Independent reporter Pam Zubeck looked into 20 years worth of police shootings for a cover story called “Line of Fire.” The investigation analyzed 20 years of shootings in the Pikes Peak Region. The paper reviewed police and DA reports, autopsy reports, jail logs and other records. The story came not long after police in Colorado Springs shot DeVon Bailey in the back as he ran away.

From “Line of Fire“:

The Independent analyzed all 68 officer-involved shootings involving 70 suspects, 35 of them fatal, in El Paso and Teller counties dating to 2001, the most recent being Sept. 29 in Monument. The review was based on DA’s reports, coroner’s autopsy reports, jail logs and media accounts. The typical suspect shot by officers is a 34-year-old white male who’s armed and is believed to have broken the law in some way. Most of those killed had drugs and/or alcohol in their system. That profile might not surprise anyone, but some findings are startling. For instance, Bailey was one of 11 people to be shot in the back by officers. All died.

Though 70 is a relatively small number on which to compute such ratios, black people were overrepresented compared to their portion of the population for those shot and those killed. But the actual numbers are small. Bailey was one of six black men shot by officers, three of whom died.

Another startling revelation: The number of officer-involved shootings has gone up by 90 percent in the last nine years compared to the previous decade, and the number killed has more than doubled.

Nationally, The Washington Post is digging into police shootings and gun violence in general. Find that coverage here.

Colorado Daily returns— as a weekly

In September, this newsletter relayed the news about how the 127-year-old Colorado Daily in Boulder lost its last staffer. This week, we learn it’s not dead.

From the CD’s Christy Fantz:

As of Saturday, the dear old Daily will pare down to become a weekly publication, publishing on Fridays. (But it will keep its name because we like to live on the edge. And it’s never been a true “daily” anyway.) It will be available at its same favorite spots around town. (And our presence won’t change online. We’ll still be here for you … Daily.) You can be upset. Your free daily has succumbed to modern technology. It has been forced to adhere to budget restraints. You lovely luddites should vent, it’s that loyal readership and passion for local news that keeps local journalism rolling.
The article is so voicey and packed with such what-the-kids-say speak that you should really read the whole thing. And it comes with this boilerplate:
We all know the state of the business. It’s 2020, and it is no secret newspapers are shrinking. Staff is light. Jobs have been doubled and tripled up on employees. At home, my laptop has been on my lap more than my child has. We are all overworking our AP Styled asses off to do what we can to bring unique content to Boulder’s rough and dirty streets.

Frantz goes on to say how she asked the editors if she could “take on this new weekly venture atop a heavy schedule since I’m the only longstanding Daily employee left in the newsroom,” and how she misses putting “this irreverent rag” together. “So let’s watch as my spark for journalism reignites,” she writes. “It’s really all about me anyway. (If you see me crying and lighting my dress on fire in the streets, find my meds.) Now you can hit me. But expect a fair fight, I’m a 6-foot-1 big bitch.”

So keep this paper on your radar.

The author who discovered lead in Flint’s water supply is speaking at CSU

Mona Hanna-Attisha, who “earned a spot on Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World for her discovery of lead in Flint, Michigan, drinking water,” will talk about her bookWhat the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, at Colorado State University soon:

From CSU:

Hanna-Attisha will discuss the book Feb. 12, as part of the Colorado State University Morgan Library’s Evening with an Author series, at the Hilton Fort Collins, 425 W. Prospect Road. … Hanna-Attisha is also the  founder and director of the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, a program to tackle the Flint community’s population-wide crisis and provide health resources for local children. This Evening with an Author is free and is open to the public. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and the program begins at 7 p.m.

You don’t need tickets, but it’s first-come-first-served. Hit up kate.jeracki [at ] colostate.edu for details.

Speaking of… The LA Times came to Fountain, CO

Reporter David Cloud, who covers the Pentagon and military affairs for The Los Angeles Times, spent some time in the Pikes Peak region recently to tell the story of those suffering from effects of the notorious man-made PFAS chemicals contaminating the water supply in the Fountain, Security, and Widefield areas.

From the must-read piece:

The communities are now in year five of a water safety crisis that stands as a case study of how difficult it is for residents to get clear information about — much less compensation for exposure to — a chemical that has yet to be federally regulated but is considered a health risk to humans by many scientists and environmental advocates. Residents have filed suit, testified in Washington and nevertheless remain deeply disillusioned by what they describe as the grudging, sometimes evasive, government response. “This community wants answers. They want to see action on the regulatory issues,” says Tyler Cornelius, a Colorado College professor and a local clean water activist. “They continually get the short end of the stick.” The contamination near Colorado Springs was traced to Peterson Air Force Base, 12 miles north of Fountain, where firefighters for decades sprayed PFAS-laden foam that seeped into an underground aquifer that supplies the area’s drinking water, Pentagon testing records show. …

The revelation has strained the community’s relationship with the military, a major employer in the area; as many as two-thirds of the residents are military retirees or active-duty families, according to officials in Fountain.

Something tells me you’ll be hearing a lot more about PFAS contamination in Colorado and elsewhere in the near future— and it won’t be pretty. Do yourself a favor and read the whole LA Times story— and become more familiar with this issue.

An on-demand local newscast for Denver?

It was 40 years ago when CNN became the first cable channel to launch a 24-hour news service on TV, a revolutionary idea at the time. Now it’s the norm. And this was all way before you could stream on-demand news anywhere. But what about local news?

At the end of last month, CBS launched CBN Philly, “the sixth of ViacomCBS’ 13 local direct-to-consumer streaming news services in major markets across the country,” according to TVNewsCheck, which features “anchored programming, coverage of live breaking news events in the region, as well as an extensive library of local news content that will be available for on-demand viewing.”

More from TVNewsCheck:

CBS (now ViacomCBS) became the first major media company to launch a local OTT news service when CBSN New York debuted in December 2018. Since then, the company has launched CBSN Los Angeles (June 2019), CBSN Boston (September 2019), CBSN San Francisco Bay Area (November 2019) and CBSN Minnesota (December 2019). Following today’s launch of CBSN Philly, CBSN Pittsburgh is scheduled to make its debut in February. During the next few months, ViacomCBS plans to launch CBSN Local services in the six remaining markets where the company has a local television news organization, including Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Miami, Sacramento and Baltimore.

So when does Denver get its debut? “We’re planning to launch CBSN Denver toward the end of this month,” says CBS4 news director Tim Wieland. In the meantime, check out what CBSN Philly looks like so far here.

Speaking of OTT…

As for the term OTT in the above item’s block quote, it stands for “Over The Top”— streaming media player services like Roku, Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Google’s ChromeCast.

It’s not only local TV news outlets that are looking to these streaming cord-cutter platforms, though. Some local newspapers have embraced it. Five years ago, I wrote for Columbia Journalism Review about how a family owned newspaper chain in Pennsylvania had launched its own TV station, offering those who take The Beaver County Times a free Roku with their newspaper subscription. “I think it’s the future of newspapers, and they need to jump on it ASAP,” Guy Tasaka, the newspaper company’s chief digital officer told me at the time.

I’m not sure whether many followed that advice. Are any newspapers in Colorado experimenting with OTT or thinking about it? I still recall a memorable quote from Tasaka. Local broadcasting stations, he told me, “haven’t had their Craigslist moment yet,” as he saw it. “It’s going to be when three guys in a garage using over-the-top platforms can create the next TV station in the market or the next news and information station. And it’s going to be three guys who gross a million dollars or two million dollars, and broadcasters are going to look at it and laugh, the way we looked at Craigslist. How can they have a business of two million dollars? The cost structure is so much lower, it’s a very viable business.”

Has anyone actually done that yet?

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Durango Herald reported how computer glitches have meant La Plata County residents “in need of Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance face long waits – weeks to months.” The Summit Daily News covered an ongoing dispute over an area open space called Fiester PreserveThe Steamboat Pilot localized Dry January by talking to locals who didn’t drink any booze last monthThe Longmont Times-Call reported how data at the Boulder County Assessor’s Office shows a persistent discrepancy between projected sales prices, and taxed values on expensive area homesThe Loveland Reporter-Herald covered a local city government retreat during which council members tried to work out some of their trust issuesThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on increasing health costs for area businessesThe Gazette reported Fort Carson could be a base where quarantined Coronavirus evacuees could wind upThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported on an expansion of the local school district after a three-year delayThe Boulder Daily Camera reported on how the county might deal with another elk herdThe Denver Post tracked every police shooting in Colorado in 2019 and released its findings.

The Coloradoan explained itself

Why do we do what we do? It’s a question news outlets that want to build trust with their readers answer and explain to clear up a seemingly increasing amount of misconceptions about media these days.

This week, the Gannett-owned Coloradoan newspaper in Fort Collins produced a piece headlined “Here’s why the Coloradoan published a database of Colorado State University salaries.” In it, one of the paper’s editors, Jennifer Hefty, explained why readers might have noticed a new database, called Data Central, appearing on their hometown paper’s website.

From the piece:

On Data Central you can find things like restaurant inspections, a log of how your representatives and senators voted, wildfire trackers, hospital ratings and more. And as of last week, you can now also find a database of salaries of Colorado State University employees. As part of our government accountability mission, it’s important that we help our community access public records — like the salaries of employees working at taxpayer-funded entities in Northern Colorado.

I should note here how the Coloradoan fought to change the state’s open records laws to bring greater transparency into this data. So why open the curtain so wide on CSU salaries? “The Coloradoan and members of the CSU community have used the information in this database for years to address important topics of gender pay equity, differences in raises given to staff and university administration, and escalating spending on student athletics, just to name a few,” Hefty wrote. “This information’s availability to a broad spectrum of stakeholders has helped make CSU a better place to work for hundreds of female and minority workers.”

Sounds like a decent reason to publish such data to me.

The Denver Post held a youth suicide essay contest and released the results

As part of its continued coverage of youth suicide in Colorado, journalists at the state’s flagship newspaper believed it was “vital to hear from teens facing this critical issue.” So they asked teens across the state “to write about their experiences with mental health and suicide through an essay contest,” and recently published five essays and poems. “They challenge us to rethink how we talk about an uncomfortable subject while offering a spark of hope,” the Post writes. Read them here.

Colo. Sheriff’s office: Don’t believe anyone but us?

As the El Paso County Sheriffs Office continues its search for a missing 11-year-old boy, the Colorado Springs-area law enforcement agency warned the public in a Facebook post that “mis-information that is being spread on social media” had become a “hinderance” to the investigation. But the agency also included this line:

Any information that is prematurely released and is not directly from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is not a credible source.

Ouch. Does that include local and national media like the daily newspaper and TV stations that have been covering this story? The Gazette reports the sheriff’s department released its statement “hours after video from a neighbor’s security camera footage circulated through media outlets.” A sheriff’s spokeswoman wouldn’t go into detail about the video with media but said it was part of the investigation.

On Tuesday, Colorado Springs TV station KRDO aired footage of the video. At the end of the online story appeared this note to readers and viewers:

Editor’s Note: The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office requested that media not air the video as the investigation is ongoing. KRDO chose to honor that request until ABC News made the editorial decision to show the video in World News Tonight with David Muir.

KRDO is the local ABC  affiliate.

The sheriff’s office should probably be more clear about what it means by misinformation on social media, unless it really is trying to throw shade at the way some outlets are covering the story. One Denver TV station ran with the headline “Private investigator speaks on search for missing boy Gannon Stauch” but in the second paragraph we learn the North Carolina-based source quoted in it isn’t even involved with the case— he just “has a strong feeling about what might have happened … based on the little information he’s received.” Sheesh.

A Springs TV station reported a story stating, “the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office (EPSO) is asking the public to keep their personal opinions on what happened to him off social media” as Facebook groups have popped up “where several people have posted their speculations on what led up to Gannon’s disappearance.”

‘The Nothing’ is spreading into Lee newspapers

For the uninitiated, “The Nothing” is a metaphor for Alden Global Capital, the cost-cutting, newsroom-gutting New York hedge fund that controls The Denver Post and roughly 100 other local newspapers and has a majority stake in the Tribune Publishing company. Why “The Nothing?” because its spreading influence reminds me of the unfathomable villain in The Neverending Story— a vast nothingness that grows, devouring life. That’s what happens when a hedge fund gets involved in local journalism: reporters get laid off, news doesn’t get told— and nothingness grows.

Here’s a scene from the movie:

Rockbiter: Near my home there used to be a beautiful lake, but then it was gone.
Tiny: Did the lake dry up?
Rockbiter: No, it just wasn’t there anymore. Nothing was there anymore. Not even a dried up lake.
Tiny: A hole?
Rockbiter: No, a hole would be something. Nah, it was nothing. …

Tiny: … this could be serious!  Rockbiter, what you have told us is also occurring where I live in the west! A strange sort of Nothing is destroying everything.
Nighthob: Yes, we Nighthobs live in the south. And it’s there too.
Rockbiter: So, so it’s not just in our part of Fantasia?
Nighthob: Maybe it’s already everywhere … Maybe our whole land is in danger. What can we do?
Here in our world, The Nothing is spreading, too. From journalist Julie Reynolds at the labor union project for Digital First Media workers:
Alden Global Capital, the New York vulture hedge fund gutting Digital First Media newspapers, has acquired a $9.2 million stake in one of its rivals, Lee Enterprises, siphoning money from Alden’s highly profitable and understaffed papers to finance the stock purchase.

Lee Enterprises is big out here in the West— it’s Montana’s largest newspaper chain— and it just bought Warren Buffett’s newspapers. Now, Alden has “sunk its claws” into it, per Harvard’s NiemanLab. If you don’t appreciate The Nothing metaphor, NeimanLab’s Joshua Benton has others, writing recently: “For those who need a reminder: Alden is journalism’s Professor Moriarty, Ra’s al Ghul, Blofeld, and Hans Landa, buying up chunks of newspaper companies and cutting their newsrooms to the bone.”

*This column appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your e-mail address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE. Image by Tony Webster for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

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