DENVER (KDVR) — When class resumes for Denver Public Schools on Monday, so will the work of school resource officers.
Denver Police Department will provide officers for 13 high school campuses. Each will have one officer, except for East High School, which will have two.
SROs were reinstated after safety concerns following shootings at or near East High School in early 2023. In one case, a student shot two deans during a scheduled pat-down.
“I wouldn’t say that had there been an officer assigned to that school that that incident would not have happened, because obviously, that individual knew that he was going to be searched upon entry into that school and so he decided to bring a gun anyway,” Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said.
According to Thomas, an SRO may have helped prevent the shooting in other ways.
“A couple things I think would have been different: One is I think that there would have been an officer or two in that school that would have already had a relationship with (the shooter) and would have understood some of his challenges and maybe would have done a better job with resources trying to address those challenges,” Thomas said. “Secondly, I think that if there had been a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that he had a weapon, not just a safety plan, then officers would have been conducting that search.”
The reintroduction of SROs, Thomas said, is meant to be another component of the district’s plan to keep students safe.
SROs aim to ‘be a positive impact for kids’
“Primarily, you just make yourself available,” Officer Tim Cuevas said.
Cuevas spent 13 years as an SRO at Thomas Jefferson High School before the program was terminated. He will return to as the school’s SRO on Monday.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to go out there and be a positive impact for kids,” he said.
“For us to be welcomed back is a very, very big deal, and I’m very personally invested in making sure that it’s successful. And that our kids feel safe,” Officer Stephanie Reyes said.
Reyes spent three months as an SRO at the end of last school year, when they were temporarily reinstated. She will act as a “floating” SRO in District 3 to help fill in for officers who may need time off.
The police chief said he expects the SRO program to get right back on track.
“Really, I foresee this being very much like it used to be, where we have officers in all of our comprehensive high schools, and as was primarily the case before, they are mainly there to have positive engagements with our students,” Thomas said.
Police chief: SROs have alternatives to citations
In 2020, the Denver Public Schools board voted to remove SROs from its schools, citing concerns about too many arrests and citations that disproportionately affected students of color.
“We recognize that there were a lot of citations issued previously, which played a role in the removal of SROs, and we have really looked closely at that and identified a number of alternatives to citations,” Thomas said.
One of the methods DPD plans to use to cut down on citations is a three-day “cooling off” period. It will primarily be used when students are involved in physical fights and one student wants to press charges against the other.
“We’re allowing this three-day grace period where families can go home, talk about the situation with the HSRO. Let’s re-discuss this in three days’ time. After cooler heads come about, maybe they don’t want to press those same charges,” Division Chief Aaron Sanchez said.
According to Thomas, the primary role of the SRO will be to act as a mentor and trusted adult for students.
“Our officers will not be involved in school matters. So we’re not going to be (dealing with) kids running down the hallway screaming, kids cussing, kids misbehaving in class, teachers that just cannot control their classrooms because of behavior issues. We are not going to be involved in that. We are only going to be involved in the investigation of law violations,” Thomas said.
All SROs have completed additional training to be able to work inside schools. The training includes de-escalation techniques, having effective conversations with young people and crisis intervention.