When an officer fires a weapon in Colorado and someone is killed or injured, state law requires a multi-agency team to investigate.
The Eighth Judicial Critical Incident Response Team, or CIRT, was formed in 2015 in accordance with a new state law requiring a multi-agency team to investigate “an incident involving the discharge of a firearm by a peace officer that resulted in injury or death.”
Here’s how police shootings are investigated in Larimer County and the Eighth Judicial District.
Which agencies are involved?
Fort Collins Police Services, Loveland Police Department and the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office take turns being the lead agency for police shooting investigations. Each year, the responsibility rotates to a different agency.
Agencies involved in the investigations include: Windsor Police Department, Timnath Police Department, Johnstown Police Department, Estes Park Police Department, Colorado State University Police Department, Colorado State Patrol and the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office.
An agency cannot investigate itself. For example, if it is the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office’s turn to lead investigations and a deputy is involved in a shooting, a different agency will lead that particular investigation.
How does a CIRT investigation begin?
The team is automatically and immediately activated when a police officer is involved in a shooting. The agency that employs the officer or officers involved in a shooting is responsible for alerting the team.
If agencies are unsure if the CIRT should be activated, they would call the Larimer County District Attorney, who would make the decision.
CIRT can also investigate incidents involving officers that result in serious injury or death, including incidents in the Larimer County Jail or fatal car crashes.
Who is on the CIRT team?
CIRT team members are assigned based on their desire and qualifications. Here is how the teams are structured:
- Three team commanders: These are officers with a command rank of lieutenant or higher, from three different agencies.
- Incident commander: One of the three team commanders will take on this role on a rotating annual basis.
- Team leaders: These must have a rank of sergeant or above; the incident commander will identify one team leader who will have primary oversight of the investigation and one who will have primary oversight of the crime scene.
- Team members: All law enforcement agencies in the Eighth Judicial District are eligible to join the CIRT. Team commanders will determine the size of the team.
- Involved agency liaison: A representative for an agency that does not have a team commander.
What is the CIRT investigation process?
- Immediately after an officer is involved in a shooting, the agency that employs that officer calls on CIRT and notifies the district attorney’s office.
- The team arrives on scene, and team members will collect evidence from the scene and log it with the agency overseeing the investigation.
- The officer involved in the incident should be processed and interviewed, if possible, at their agency, according to CIRT policy.
- Team members will file reports through the agency that employs them, not the agency overseeing the investigation.
- When the investigation is complete, CIRT team members present the findings to the district attorney.
- The district attorney makes a finding on whether the officer involved should be charged with a crime.
- If no charges are filed, the district attorney must publicly release a report explaining the district attorney’s findings and why the officer was not charged.
- If the district attorney refers the case to the grand jury, the district attorney must release a statement disclosing the general purpose of the grand jury’s investigation.
What happens with the officers involved in shootings during these investigations?
Most often, officers are put on paid administrative leave while the CIRT investigation is ongoing.
Officers are sanctioned by their individual agencies, not the CIRT investigators.
Internal investigations are independent from CIRT investigations.
This story might be updated with answers to additional questions you have. Send your other questions regarding Critical Incident Response Team investigations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sady Swanson covers crime, courts, public safety and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan.Support our work and local journalism with a digital subscription at Coloradoan.com/subscribe.
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