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Pueblo police chief talks about officer-involved shootings

Pueblo police chief talks about officer-involved shootings

PUEBLO, Colo. - Two people have been shot and killed by Pueblo police officers in 2014. Police say in both cases suspects pointed a weapon at officers.

"It seems more and more that our officers, and officers across the country, are facing individuals who are willing to use firearms," said Chief Luis Velez.

Velez said officers are encountering more people with substance abuse and mental health issues. He said that's contributing to officer-involved shootings. 

On March 5, officers responded to a home in the 1600 block of Jackson Street for a domestic disturbance call. When they went inside the home, police say Robert Gonzales, 23, raised a handgun at three officers. Police shot and killed him.

A similar situation unfolded on Jan. 4. Police were involved in a standoff situation at an apartment complex on Gaylord Avenue when they say Frankie Martinez, 66, pointed a weapon at S.W.A.T. Members. Officers shot and killed Martinez. 

"At that moment, the officers have to make a decision as to whether they are in danger of losing their own life, and it would be at that point in time that they certainly could use lethal force," Velez said.

Since 2010, seven people have been killed by Pueblo police and four by Colorado Springs police. Velez said there's no way to justify how Pueblo, a city what about a quarter of the population as Colorado Springs, has had nearly twice the number of officer-involved shootings resulting in death. Velez said his officers aren't initiating them. They're reacting to dangerous situations.

Velez said, "Our officers have had many more instances than in this case the Colorado Springs Police Department during that same period of time."

Every shooting involving Pueblo police officers is investigated by the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office. In the past, Velez said officers were found to have acted within department policy. The two shootings from this year are still being investigated.

"I don't have any sense at all that our officers are in any way trigger happy," Velez said. "The reality is that they're being placed into these situations where individuals are forcing their actions."

In light of recent shootings, Velez said training has become more realistic than what it used to be. Officers train using simulated bullets that sting when someone is hit.

"Nobody is prepared for an encounter when somebody fires a weapon at you or tries to level a weapon at you, even though police officers train all the time," Velez said. "It is still something that's a shock to the system and again it happens in just a nanosecond where the officer has to make a decision to fire their weapon and strike a target that's trying to harm them."

The officers involved in the shootings this year are back at work while the investigations into their cases continues. 

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