BOULDER — The mission of SHIELD616 is to give first responders the protective gear they need when they rush toward danger. While police and fire department budgets are currently tight or shrinking the need for first responders to not wait to confront an active shooter threat to save lives, only seems to be growing. It’s a tragedy we saw here in Colorado again this year at the King Soopers mass shooting in Boulder.
Innocent lives lost, as well as a Boulder police officer who died saving others. It’s aftermath tore a hole through the community, our state, and our country. While some of those wounds may never fully heal there is hope and healing in Boulder.
Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold says, “This is going to be a process, and we're not through it yet. It's been devastating to the police department, the joint departments, and the community but I do think things are getting better.”
Chief Herold recalls she had been on the job in Boulder for about 8 months before that horrible day in late March 2020. “That's a day I'll never forget. It's a Chief's worst nightmare. I still remember getting the text and thinking - it was a faulty text - I still can't believe it happened.”
Boulder police officer Eric Talley was first on the scene and rushed into the store, not waiting for backup. An act his father, Homer, said about a week after the shooting wasn't something his son did on an impulse based on a previous conversation the father and son had. “He told me I'm trained to wait for backup but papa, I don't think I can do that. I don't think I can stand around and wait for someone else to get there when people need help.”
In the initial aftermath just days after his death, Chief Harold praised officer Talley’s professionalism, his commitment to his community and humanity. “The heroic action of this officer when he responded to the scene. He cared about this community, he cared about the Boulder police department, he cared about his family and he was willing to die to protect others.”
Many of the officers who responded to the King Soopers as the dire situation unfolded were equipped with rifle-rated protective ballistic gear such as members of the Boulder police SWAT team and the Boulder County Sheriff's Office.
Because response tactics to these situations have changed over the years when patrol officers were trained to wait for more heavily armed and protected backup, the vast majority of agencies still are not budgeted to outfit all of their officers with rifle-rated ballistic gear.
Chief Harold says, “I think the majority of community members know that this is a tough job, and police officers die in this country, sometimes because they're not equipped to go into these situations like the King Soopers.”
That’s where SHIELD616 comes in to offer help. Founded in 2015 in the wake of the planned parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs, SHIELD616 is a non-profit that helps raise money to give officers top-of-the-line gear they need, one kit and one department at a time.
Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle says, “When we had the King Supers shooting several months ago, I had a couple of deputies come and tell me how impactful it was to put that gear on and to have it as they responded to the call, and to know they had an added level of protection. SHIELD616 has done tremendous things for our agency, and the relationship with them is ongoing and wonderful.”
A similar relationship is now being built with the Boulder police department. SHIELD616 stepped in and provided the end of watch challenge coins to the department for officer Talley. In late July the team SHIELD616 cycling team rode them in tribute, 44 miles from the Johnstown SCHEELS store to the Boulder police department. The challenge coins were then presented to chief Harold and the Boulder police command staff as another gesture of support.
Chief Harold says, “Without support l don't think the police department moves forward. It gets you through the tragedies and it gives you hope. This year has been really hard for the Boulder police department, but we know it's hard for policing across the country right now. I think support gives the officers hope that things will get better and that this community supports them.”
On this year's SHIELD616 border to border ride, each rider will carry the name of officer Eric Talley on the back of their jerseys 480 miles across the state. Sadly it’s not the only name of a first responder who went end of watch and were added to the jerseys this year, five other Colorado first responders gave their lives in the line of duty since last year's ride.
One of the most unique aspects of the SHIELD616 border to border ride is that while it is a memorial ride, it’s also an event that focuses on doing what can be done to prevent future tragedies. This year’s ride will donate protective vests and helmets spread across 10 Colorado agencies, including the Boulder police department who will be receiving 5 kits.
Chief Harold says, “Organizations such as 616 that come out and do these wonderful acts of kindness, that really help to protect us, I'll forever be grateful for that. I want peace of mind that my officers have the best equipment possible to protect them as they're running into these horrific situations and that the officers do have some level of protection from these high ballistic rifles.”
It’s these many gestures of support, big and small that are helping move things forward to a brighter day. Chief Harold says, “I do think things are getting better day by day. And it's only because of community support, and great organizations, we just appreciate it. We are moving together as a community - because we are a community.”