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Fountain Police respond to recent crime wave

Second teen arrested in car break-ins, armed home invasion

 

Last updated 7/16/2020 at 2:26pm

Karin Hill

A few months ago residents of Fountain eagerly greeted a parade of police and fire vehicles like this Investigations van through their neighborhoods. Recent events have increased tensions, and police say they are continuing to "strive to be great" despite challenging circumstances.

A wave of serious crimes in Fountain recently has residents on edge. From shootings to vehicle break-ins, the numbers are in and they are up.

Several of those incidents occurred around the Fourth of July weekend. Fountain Police Chief Chris Heberer says he is as troubled by the crimes as everyone else, and he vows that detectives and officers are pursuing each of these cases diligently. In fact, he expects several more arrests in the coming days.

But the "trend," as some see it, is not entirely a surprise, he said. There always tends to be an increase in the summer months as kids and teens are out of school and daylight lasts longer. Coming off the COVID-19 shutdown seems to have amplified this, as people have been acting particularly agitated and stir-crazy. On top of that, frustrations with police across the nation have had people on edge.

"We knew it was coming," Heberer said, adding that holiday weekends usually have higher crime totals. "Everywhere in Colorado crime is up. Crime is up in the major metropolitan areas, and that's backed up by facts."

But for longtime residents who say "lately Fountain is getting a little too violent" or "as soon as it is possible we are leaving" – actual comments from residents on recent news articles posted online – the threat seems too real and too close to home.

Just a few months ago, the Fountain Valley News reported on a study ranking Fountain as the 15th safest out of 41 cities in Colorado. In 2019, crime statistics for the city were average or even down. More recently, community morale seemed high when the police and fire departments conducted emergency vehicle parades throughout many neighborhoods to bring some cheer to residents during the "stay-at-home" shutdown.

Just a few weeks ago, Heberer and other city officials had been meeting with various community groups to discuss police-community relations and how to improve them, and the response had been positive across the board. Residents were bringing cards, cookies and cakes to the police department to show their appreciation.

In a moment of levity, Heberer said those gestures were overwhelming and greatly appreciated, but he had one request: "Bring us fruit! We want our officers to be fit and healthy!"

A balancing act

One case that has gotten a lot of attention in the public recently involves a family and neighbors on Araia Drive. Family members claim certain neighbors – white males – have been racially harassing and threatening them for months. According to the mother, her children have been called the "n" word. She says the men have threatened to slit her husband's throat and throw bricks at her daughter.

The situation peaked in the early morning hours of July 5, when some of the teens say the neighbor brandished a gun while in a verbal altercation with them.

While the details of these incidents are difficult to verify on the spot, Heberer said his officers have been going "above and beyond" to address the family's concerns and ensure the safety of everyone in the area. An officer was stationed in that neighborhood shortly after the incident to maintain the peace.

"We also worked with the family to secure protection orders," he said.

An arrest was made, and another man was charged, Heberer said. Some of the charges between the two men include harassment with a bias enhancer due to the apparent racial motivation. The District Attorney's office has numerous statements and evidence for review and will make a decision on that after July 23.

And while everyone involved waits for the legal system to process this case, Heberer said he has a few concerns. One is that residents who feel victimized will take matters into their own hands. He said FPD will not tolerate any kind of "vigilante justice." In addition, it's the department's duty to protect all involved – both the victims and the accused.

"Our job is to ensure people receive equal treatment under the law, regardless of their race," he said. "We need to ensure the safety of everybody in that neighborhood, regardless of their status as victim, or even the accused."

However, Heberer vowed that police would be keeping a close eye on this area and related problems.

"The next person that goes in and antagonizes, we're going to go in and arrest them," he said.

He noted that it is difficult for his officers to deal with backlash from the community for not doing enough while attempting to do their jobs in a fair manner. Some have felt the stress of continuing to go out in public during the COVID-19 outbreak, and situations like this only compound the pressure.

"If we were to lose some of the good cops here, we'd be at grave risk," Heberer said.

The department continues to operate below full staffing levels, and there is no wiggle room for retention problems. He encouraged the community to work together and not let isolated incidents divide them. He also noted that anyone with concerns has been welcome to call or visit him in the five-plus years he's been chief, and that offer still stands.

"It boils down to good versus evil," Heberer said. "It's not about backing the blue or any of that. I work for you."

Other recent crimes

The Independence Day weekend ended with another streak of crimes across Fountain, including numerous vehicle break-ins early the morning of July 6 involving roughly 40 cars in the Countryside neighborhood. A handgun and an AR-15 were among the items stolen.

A short time later, a stolen vehicle crashed in front of a home on Blossom Field Road. Two individuals forcibly entered a residence. When the suspects entered the home, they held the homeowners at gunpoint, took the family's car keys and stole their vehicle.

"This family was inside their home when the suspects shot out their side window, unlocked the door, and entered their home, pointing guns at the residents," Fountain Public Safety Information Officer Lisa Schneider said.

A short time later, officers located this vehicle and attempted to stop it when the vehicle fled. A nearby resident who witnessed police chasing an SUV from the scene said the incident concerned him greatly, especially as a father of a young child.

Officers pursued the vehicle until speeds became too dangerous and it was deemed a threat to the community.

As the investigation continued, detectives identified one of the suspects involved. On July 9, a 13-year-old male who is a Security-Widefield resident was arrested and charged with the following felonies: aggravated robbery, aggravated motor vehicle theft, menacing, and first-degree burglary.

A second arrest was made July 14 -- this time a 15-year-old male.

The investigation is ongoing and more arrests are anticipated. Heberer said this incident appears not to be specific to Fountain and that it is not indicative of this city's typical crime experiences.

"It's roving groups of juveniles, with some ringleaders, that go from jurisdiction to jurisdiction," he said.

It's particularly challenging because the young people involved in such crimes tend to have no respect for law enforcement and will run if pursued.

"Today, these kids are bringing guns and are not shy to use them," he said. "What I'm saying to my cops right now is that if we can positively identify these individuals, we are going to do everything possible, legally and lawfully, to include crashing a vehicle, to get them in custoy. We are going in 100 percent, all in, because the risk to our community with this group of individuals is great," he said.

Other serious incidents from last week remain under investigation. Those include a drive-by shooting between two vehicles on Hadley Street the afternoon of July 7.

FPD noted that the vehicle break-ins were the result of too many vehicles being unlocked. The criminals typically go down an entire street, from driveway to driveway, looking for unlocked cars. If they find a locked car, they move on until they find an unlocked one.

Police also noticed that some of the recent thieves appear to be targeting military and law enforcement personnel and or individuals who have pro military and law enforcement stickers on their vehicles.

These incidents typically occur during the overnight hours and are not reported until the next morning when the owner recognizes property missing or out of place. The items most commonly taken from vehicles are wallets, firearms, cellphones, garage door openers and other valuables.

FPD encourages residents to employ some basic preventative measures:

• Disable your garage door by locking it at the control panel inside your garage every night (if your garage has that option).

• Lock your vehicles both in your garage and if your vehicle is not parked in the garage.

• Remove valuables from view.

• Do not leave any prescription medications or firearms in your vehicle.

• Leave home exterior lights on at night.

• Report any suspicious behavior to police during the overnight hours.

• Report any incident where you believe someone has entered your vehicle without permission (i.e. glove box left open or items strewn about vehicle).

Anyone with information, or who is a witness to these incidents, is asked to call the El Paso County Sheriff's Office Communication Center at (719) 390-5555; or if you wish to remain anonymous, you may call Crime Stoppers Tip Line at (719) 634 STOP (7867) or 1-800-222-8477.

 

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