A message from Chief Niski . . .
I want to start off this press conference by apologizing. Apologizing to our community for not addressing you sooner. For not taking a stronger stance. I stand in front of you, as your chief of police, to address my mistakes, and to express to you our department’s commitment for a united community.
We, the officers of the Colorado Springs Police Department, join you in your outrage. We mourn the divide that separates us from parts of our community. And we stand with you against injustice and against the acts that led to the death of Mr. Floyd. In my 31 year law enforcement career, I can tell you what I saw in that video was not only tragic, but it was wrong, unjustified, and was not in service to the people those officers swore to protect. I am heartbroken for Mr. Floyd’s family, and want to extend my deepest condolences to his loved ones.
To our community: I can tell you, that is not how we train our officers here in Colorado Springs. That is not what we stand for and it is not who we are. We are Colorado Springs, we are also members of this community. We are fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, who all live here, and we are committed to our pursuit for unity. As a white male, I cannot fully understand your experiences as a person of color, nor the deep pain or distrust that some feel during their interactions with law enforcement. What I can assure you is, that my officers’ interactions with you is not based on color. It is not based on social economic status. It is not based on gender. It is not based on your religious beliefs. It is based on the law. We are here for every single member of the community. That is my pledge to the citizens of Colorado Springs. That is my officers’ pledge as well. And if one of mine breaks that pledge, they will be dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
We have heard from members of our community who are scared, outraged, and fearful of the police. We grieve with you and understand that you are weary, skeptical, and exhausted. As pain reverberates throughout our nation, it is understandable that all eyes turn toward their local police departments for answers. That’s what I am here to do. If an event like what occurred in Minneapolis were to happen in Colorado Springs, we would immediately evaluate that situation. If there was clear obvious wrong doing, and we believe the officer has committed a criminal act, we would recommend to our district attorney that they be held and charged to the maximum extent the law would allow.
I would also like to take a moment to address the protests…and I would like to start by thanking the peaceful protesters who are expressing their passion and their desire to make our community a better place. We stand with you for a peaceful city. For a movement forward. For increased awareness and understanding. Thank you for making your voices peacefully heard. We are listening.
This past week, we have had the opportunity to engage in raw conversations that have helped us and the community both understand each other a little better. While there is always room to grow, I find hope in these conversations and in the relationships we are creating during these times. Bridges are being built right here and now, and we fully plan to continue this momentum forward. It has truly been an honor to help make your voices heard and to help protect your rights to peacefully protest.
Unfortunately, there has been unlawful activity occurring, typically during the night time protests. Over the last few days, officers have been attacked with rocks, bottles, large explosive fireworks, shots fired at an armored vehicle, and more. Acts of violence against anyone in our community is unacceptable, and something we will not allow. We will be out every night to ensure that protestors are protected when exercising their rights, but what we will not permit to happen is damage to public property and harm to others.
While these protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, we, as a police department, need to take protective action against unlawful acts. Over the weekend we have used techniques such as tear gas to disperse crowds when agitators have escalated the protest to a dangerous level. We stand in solidarity with you. But when a crime occurs, we have to take action.
If the escalation of violence continues during the nighttime protests, I will recommend a curfew to the mayor. Not in an attempt to stop protests, but as a way to keep our community safe and ensure that the peaceful protestor’s message is heard loud and clear, and not drowned out by the few who only wish to cause disorder.
Again, I want to sincerely apologize for my slow response. I ask only one thing of you. The officers who are working on the front lines every day are there to protect your rights and to ensure your safety. They are out there not only because it is their duty, but also because they believe in the oath they took to live a life of service to all of you. Please do not judge them, or our department as a whole, for my actions.
I am looking forward to continue serving our community as you exercise your rights, and am thankful for the opportunities ahead of us as we all grow together. Our work does not end with this press conference. It will continue to include ongoing actions, training, conversations with our community, and transparency projects.