DENVER (KDVR) — Following Wednesday’s shooting at Denver’s East High School, the Board of Education has temporarily suspended its ban on school resource officers and will reinstate them at each district high school until the end of the academic year.
“We have not flip-flopped. What we are doing is we are including more community engagement,” Denver Public Schools board president, Xóchitl Gaytán, said during a press conference regarding the policy change.
The board unanimously passed a memorandum directing Superintendent Alex Marrero to devise a new safety plan for the district. It also suspended a rule passed in 2020 disallowing armed police officers to be assigned inside DPS schools.
The newly adopted policy states through the end of the 2022-2023 school year, each DPS high school can have up to two armed police officers and two mental health professionals. However, DPS will not be paying for them. The board has directed the superintendent to work with city officials, including Mayor Michael Hancock, to externally fund the positions.
Additionally, officers assigned to Denver’s high schools will not be allowed to engage in discipline issues on campus or in classrooms.
Marrero said he believes the temporary policy will keep students and staff safe because response times will go from about six minutes to zero.
“When we have someone on premises, that’s a first responder that’s there,” he said.
Francisco Alba is an officer with the Denver Police Department. He was the second officer to enter East High School on Wednesday when a student shot two deans.
“These kids want to feel like they have someone that is backing them up,” Francisco Alba said.
“I was the one who helped lift them up off the floor onto the stretchers and ushered them out,” he said.
Alba spent 16 years of his 23 years in police work as a school resource officer.
“Back in 1992 I was a victim of a crime at a high school where there was an active shooter back in Florida and when I saw that officer go after the person who did the shooting, I saw myself and said that’s what I want to do. I’m gonna be a cop in a school. I want to save others. And that’s exactly what I became,” Alba said.
He served both Manual and Bruce Randolph campuses during his career where, in addition to his SRO duties, he also voluntarily taught for-credit criminal justice courses. In 2020, he was given the National Association of School Resource Officers Regional Service Award.
“I give myself to the schools. To the kids. It’s hard for me to believe that I have like these little confines of how to do my job when I’ve been very effective in the past. In addition, I was ranked one of the top SROs in the country the year that I was kicked out. So, enough is enough. We need to put the politics to the side and focus on our kids,” he said.
Alba is the lead investigator in Wednesday’s East High School shooting. He will also be assigned as one of the two armed officers at East High School when students return from spring break. He volunteered for the opportunity.
“There have been plenty of kids that I have lifted up off the floor, helped put into a body bag and escorted down to the coroner’s office. I am tired of that,” Alba said.
He said while his presence may make students, staff and parents feel safer, simply staffing SROs in schools for a few weeks will not solve security problems.
“I don’t want to give false promises. I gotta be realistic. When I was a school resource officer I had a multitude of students tell me hey, Johnny Somebody has got a gun or this person is talking about seriously assaulting somebody at the end of the school day. When we build those relationships with students they tell us things and we try to help mitigate those issues that way we can preserve life,” he said.