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How do Colorado Springs police contact citizens in harm's way? 

High alert

click to enlarge Kyree Howard-Walker. - COLORADO SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Colorado Springs Police Department
  • Kyree Howard-Walker.

The disturbing crime spree that occurred on Feb. 22, apparently orchestrated by a single perpetrator — including two homicides, two carjackings, and bullets fired at random cars, seriously injuring one driver (interactive timeline below) — might appear to have warranted an order from law enforcement for nearby residents and those at businesses to shelter in place until the suspect was in custody.

But it wasn’t until a police standoff Feb. 25 that CSPD issued such an alert, often called a “reverse 9-1-1,” through the El Paso-Teller County 9-1-1 Authority’s Peak Alerts system.

That day, police surrounded a house near Florence and Montrose avenues where they believed 27-year-old Kyree Howard-Walker (a parolee who was convicted of felony trespassing in September) was hiding with a woman thought to be his girlfriend.

After the house was surrounded, 44 people in the area received a message announcing “police activity related to a wanted person” nearby. They were asked to lock up, stay indoors, and keep away from windows and doors.

“Shelter in place until all clear message sent,” the alert continued.

Moments later, officers entered the home to find Howard-Walker inside — dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Why not send a similar “reverse 9-1-1” alert after the first shooting, which occurred at an apartment complex the morning of Feb. 22, or the second or third shootings that day?

“We take each case independently, because we want to make sure we’re not going to be sending too many messages out,” says police spokesperson Sgt. Jason Newton.

After the first shooting and carjacking, Newton explained, the suspect appeared to have specifically targeted someone — police didn’t have reason to believe he was randomly targeting people. After the second and third shootings, he fled the scene in a vehicle so there was no point telling people to shelter in place.

But Newton also stressed the importance of the Peak Alerts system in keeping the community safe.

click to enlarge Image of suspect released by police. - COLORADO SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Colorado Springs Police Department
  • Image of suspect released by police.
El Paso and Teller County residents can sign up by visiting peakalerts.org. You can enter up to five addresses — useful if you have separate work, home and school locations, 9-1-1 Authority spokesperson Ben Bills says. There are options for how you want to be notified (text, email or call) and when you don’t want notifications (in the early morning, for example).

When public safety agencies want to use the system to send out an alert, they select a specific area on a map, Bills says. People who’ve signed up for Peak Alerts with addresses in that area will be notified.

Then there’s the Everbridge app: It’s “for when you’re on the go,” Bills explains. “... It goes through Location Services on your phone. So let’s say you were working [downtown], but you drove north to Briargate ... it’ll give you the message that’s being broadcasted in that area.”

Public safety agencies across the country use the Everbridge system, so the app can receive notifications when you’re on a road trip.

Currently, there are around 56,000 people signed up for Peak Alerts in El Paso and Teller counties, Bills says. That’s not many when you consider the combined population of both counties: approximately 739,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Though the 9-1-1 Authority does purchase a list of some landline phone numbers in case it needs to send out alerts, it’s important to sign up to make sure your contact information is accurate and that you can be contacted in an emergency, Bills says.

click to enlarge A carjacking occurred near the intersection of Wahsatch Avenue and Costilla Street. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • A carjacking occurred near the intersection of Wahsatch Avenue and Costilla Street.

Brad Hoetger, a resident of the apartment complex where the first shooting took place, said he’d received an email from apartment management about the incident “before the crime scene guys were even gone.” He said he’d approved of that notification process.

Though apartment management wouldn’t comment on the incident or verify the email, Newton said that police do try to communicate with nearby business owners or apartment management during crime investigations.

“If we’re going to impact the business for a long time, we’ll always try on scene to reach out to somebody that’s in charge of that complex to let them know,” he explains. It’s normally up to the business to decide how to notify residents or customers.

Newton compared the practice to a situation where police might share information about a shooting near a school, but the school would ultimately determine whether to institute a lockdown.

Do the weekend’s events mean Colorado Springs is no longer safe, as some people lamented in comments on Facebook?

Depends on your perception.

“Now with social media and all that, [the public sees] everything that happens,” Newton says. “You used to find out just what happened in your own neighborhood... I think we’re better at notifying people, but we haven’t — if you look at the crime statistics, we haven’t had a real uptick.”

Click on the arrows to navigate through the interactive timeline below, showing the events that occurred on Feb. 22.

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