Most Denver cops don’t have vests that can stop AR-15s and AK-47s

DPD is currently figuring out how it can continue fundraising with a Colorado-based nonprofit, Shield 616, to outfit more officers with the equipment.
4 min. read
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen wears a bullet-proof vest beneath his uniform. Feb. 14, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The shooter had used nine bullets before cops found him inside a parking garage near Coors Field.

He had an AR-15 rifle, two 30-round magazines -- one fully-loaded, the other missing 10 bullets -- and one fully-loaded 10-round magazine, according to a probable cause statement.

Speaking during a Feb. 5 city ethics board meeting, Denver police Lt. Michael Wyatt described the incident from November as a "nightmare situation" for cops. Authorities believe the man, Bryan Lambert, fired the rifle while inside the parking garage on Blake Street. There were no reported injuries, though two cars were struck by gunfire.

"Fortunately, he ended up trying to hide the gun, and everything went well," Wyatt said during the meeting. "But that's one of the instances where it's just sheer luck that an officer wasn't killed for not having the right equipment."

Denver police Chief Paul Pazen said just over 200 of the department's roughly 1,600 officers are outfitted with rifle-resistant vests that could have stopped the bullets from a gun like the one allegedly used by Lambert. The department wants more, but i's not clear if officers are facing an increase in rifle gunfire in Denver. Pazen said there were seven incidents in 2019 in which people shot at officers, though he noted most of them involved handguns. Nearly 2,000 guns have been reported as stolen over the past three years, and "many of those" are rifles, including assault-style weapons, he said.

"There are better vests that are out there that can keep our officers safe," Pazen said. "We ask them to do a very dangerous job. And it's our obligation to keep them safe."

A rifle-resistant bullet-proof vest in Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen's office. Feb. 14, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

DPD's rifle-resistant vests were provided by Colorado Springs-based Shield 616, which helps raise money to buy such vests for officers across the state. Such vests aren't cheap; each kit costs about $2,000 and includes the armored vest plates, a vest and a helmet. Those plates are capable of stopping gunfire from assault-style rifles like AK-47s and AR-15s. Pazen said the department has prioritized getting the vests for certain officers, including patrol officers, school resources officers and detectives in the domestic violence unit.

The department wants the board of ethics to help determine the limitations of its partnership with Shield 616 and make sure cops aren't violating the city's code of ethics.

"You just never know when that incident could occur, that high-level incident," Pazen said. "A detective, a supervisor could be the first one on the scene, and we want to make sure that they are safe in these circumstances."

A Denver Police officer packs up after a standoff with a suspect on Humboldt Street near Cole Arts and Sciences Academy. Nov. 22, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Former Colorado Springs Police Department officer Jake Skifstad founded Shield 616 in 2015. As a cop, he responded to two deadly active shooter incidents, both in the Springs: the New Life Church shooting in 2007 and the Planned Parenthood shooting in 2015, during which one officer died.

Shield 616 has partnered with Denver for about a year and a half.

"This isn't a problem just here in Colorado Springs or Denver, this is something across the country where all these agencies are having a hard time trying to acquire this protection," Skifstad said.

Denver police have partnered with local TV stations to raise money for the vests. One Denver officer, Andrew Bergner, got his own vest personally delivered by Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay after the team raised $200,000 for first-responders. Pazen joked that he's willing to take less conventional approaches to raise money to make sure more of his officers have the equipment.

"Even if that means bagging groceries to get them to the gear that they need or washing cars," Pazen said. "We are committed ... we'll do whatever it takes to get every officer this gear."

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