Deadly Ambush Of An Arvada Police Officer Comes Amid A Violent Year For Colorado Law Enforcement

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Law enforcement, firefighters, first responders and representatives of many jurisdictions across the Front Range and beyond took part in a procession and public funeral for Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley on Tuesday, March 30, 2021 in Lafayette, Colorado. Talley was killed along with nine others when a gunman opened fire in a Boulder King Soopers supermarket on Monday, March 22, 2021.

Updated 6:13 p.m.

Arvada officer Gordon Beesley, who was gunned down in a shopping district on Monday and killed, was targeted because of his police uniform, officials said on Tuesday.

Beesley, a school resource officer working patrol for the summer, responded to a call about something suspicious going on near the town's library. He was then shot by someone who Arvada Police Chief Link Strate said, "was a person who expressed hatred of police officers."

Strate called it an "ambush" in a "deliberate act of violence."

"Communities need to know and understand what they ask of their police officers," Strate said. "The death to Gordon Beesley is a tragic loss to this community and to this department ... it is an unconceivable loss to his family."

Two law enforcement officers in Colorado have died by gunfire on duty in 2021, and it’s only June. 

That puts the state on pace to have among the deadliest years for law enforcement officers dying by gunfire in the last decade.

In addition to Beesley, in March, Boulder Police Officer Eric Talley was shot and killed inside a King Soopers when he was responding to reports of mass casualties and gunfire inside the store. Including Talley, ten people were killed in that mass shooting.

The last year two officers died of gunfire in Colorado was 2018, and that accounts for the whole year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks officer deaths state-by-state across the country. 

In Colorado, two officers died of gunfire on duty each year in 2016, 2012 and 2011.

Cory Christensen, police chief for Steamboat Springs and president of the Colorado Association of Police Chiefs, attributes the two gunshot deaths early this year to the fact that officers are facing more dangers on the job, not just from guns. 

Officers facing more threats

In Grand Junction, for example, assaults on officers are up more than 300 percent in 2021 — the number jumped from about 18 assaults a year to 89 in 2020, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

“It’s troublesome. The men and women I have here in uniform, they’re on my heart every day,” Chief Christensen said. “I don't want them hurt, injured or killed. I know their spouses, their children, their dogs. I worry about them every single day.”

Attorney General Phil Weiser, whose department runs the Police Officer Standards and Training Board, said Beesley’s death this week was a reminder about the difficulty of officers’ day to day shifts.

“We need more empathy for all involved in the criminal justice system, officers and families, victims and defendants,” Weiser said. “The amount of trauma that is connected to our criminal justice system … officers who are shot at, officers who are forced to shoot. They don’t readily get over that.”

Weiser noted agencies lose more officers to suicide than duty deaths.

“As we take a moment to reflect on what happened yesterday, one of the thoughts I have is one of gratitude,” Weiser said, referring to Beesley’s death in Arvada. “They put themselves in danger and they are making a sacrifice on behalf of all of us.”

Officers die on duty in a lot of ways. So far this year, two Denver Sheriff’s deputies have died of COVID-19 and one El Paso deputy succumbed last year to the disease. All three were working inside their local jail when they got sick.

Other officers have died of vehicular assaults, car accidents, aircraft accidents and drownings. Colorado State Patrol troopers get struck by vehicles and die while on duty, including two in 2019. One Colorado Department of Corrections officer died of an explosion that year, too.

But officers who die by gunfire are the highest profile and usually draw national attention and colleagues from around the country, who come and pay respects. 

In March, thousands of law enforcement officers descended on a megachurch in Boulder County for Officer Talley’s funeral

So many officers showed up from New York, Texas, California, Wyoming and other places that Boulder residents were asked to sit in an overflow area.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the new information from officials that Arvada officer Gordon Beesley was targeted because of his police uniform.