In the past year, men with high-powered rifles have killed six people in our community.
And, in our community, we ask law enforcement officers to protect us, but we don't provide them with the equipment they need to protect themselves. Colorado Springs Police Officer Jake Skifstad, founder and president of the nonprofit Shield 616, is working to change that. The goal of Shield 616 is to purchase quality protective gear for 1,500 officers in El Paso County.
The idea first came to him after the 2007 New Life Church shooting in north Colorado Springs. Skifstad took action following the Aurora theater shooting, working with others to design a vest that would stop a round from a high-powered weapon, gear that street cops can quickly access in active-shooter situations.
"We want that officer to have faith, that if I have to confront a guy with a rifle, I have faith in my armor... that it's going to protect my life and allow me to go home at the end of the night," Skifstad says.
In October, heavily armed Noah Harpham killed three people near downtown Colorado Springs before police took him down. In November, Robert Lewis Dear Jr. killed three at Planned Parenthood, including University of Colorado at Colorado Springs officer Garrett Swasey.
Skifstad was at Planned Parenthood that day. He witnessed the ferocious capabilities of the shooter's high-powered weaponry. He also knew Swasey, the 44-year-old father of two, who responded to a call for help from all available police in the area. Skifstad said Swasey wore a "soft vest," capable of stopping a bullet from a handgun, but ineffective against long guns such as an AR-15.
"You might as well go in with a T-shirt," Skifstad says.
Shield 616 provides officers with a vest and ballistic plates and helmet, plus glasses, gas mask pouch, gunshot wound first aid, and an optic device for better vision in long-range situations. The kit retails for $2,200, but Skifstad has worked with manufacturers to cut the cost to $1,000.
With shootings across the country becoming more common and anti-cop sentiment on the rise, Skifstad is asking the community for help. "We don't have to focus on other cities," he says. "We just need to work on our community."
"We want members of the community to run with us," Skifstad said. "We not only want to buy more gear, but we want to build a relationship between officers and community members."
Race-day registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the race begins at 9; online registration and more information is available at bit.ly/Shield616.
If you're not into running, Colorado Springs police chaplain Cary Katalin has a big adventure planned for Sept. 8-11. Katalin and a group of cyclists will ride their bikes down the Front Range from the Wyoming border to New Mexico to raise funds and awareness for Shield 616.
Katalin said police are increasingly concerned about their safety. Families are worried about their loved ones not coming home. He occasionally rides along with officers on patrol. "There have been times when I've been out and the potential for something to go bad is very real, and it's scary," he says.
The bike ride will be supported as the cyclists pedal between 70 and 114 miles each day. There is a scheduled stop in Colorado Springs on Sept. 9, Katalin said. Each rider is asked to raise $1,000 for Shield 616.
There are no plans to grow the ride. Katalin said he would rather keep it small and include riders who are dedicated to the cause. Those who would like to ride — strong cyclists capable of covering the distance — are encouraged to email Katalin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"My fear is that we'll get really fit cyclists and I'll be the one fat guy," Katalin says.
Businesses can also make donations by contacting Skifstad at email@example.com, or by visiting shield616.org/sponsor-a-cop. Special moments are created when an individual or local business presents an officer with equipment that could save his or her life.
"When we do these vest presentations, you can see the officers being uplifted," Skifstad says. "The fun thing is not only getting the gear, but to see them interact with their sponsor. Getting to meet this stranger who has stepped up and donated $1,000 for them. It's amazing to see their reaction. It's almost like an instant bond."