For Denver's returning SRO program, the Board of Education is being forced to use the very same school resource officers rejected by DPS in June 2020, with district sources telling Westword that these Denver Police Department officers are all they have right now.
"As SRO training is lengthy, and our emergency suspension of EL10.10 only extends through June 30, we anticipated that DPD would utilize previous SROs in fulfilling our urgent request," confirms BOE president Xochitl Gaytan.
On March 23, after the school board ruled in favor of placing the armed officers back in DPS schools following the East High shootings the day before, DPD officials told Westword that it would be using cops who'd previously served as campus liaisons in the controversial Denver SRO program that the board had banned in 2020. According to the DPD, the officers who'll serve as SROs in Denver high schools have already been chosen.
As a result, DPS students will have to walk the halls with some of the same SROs who weren't able to properly police them the first time around, according to BOE's 2020 ruling on their overuse of force. According to district sources, the DPD just doesn't have any cops on hand who can do all of the SRO training right away. So for the time being, the DPD will get 2020's leftovers.
"For some school communities, the local SRO had a unique working relationship with the leadership and the school," Gaytan says. "The relationship built with that school community worked well for some, in part due to the experience and training of individual officers. It is also well-known and documented that there were SROs that did not serve students and their families well by over-policing and criminalizing students by ticketing for minor infractions such as truancy, causing families to end up in city court to pay fines for such infractions."
District sources tell Westword that the school board knows and understands that the new SROs will include "some cops who weren't perfect" — and also recognizes the likelihood that some may have had bad experiences with students in the past. The hope is to make sure the officers are specifically instructed to stay out of non-criminal issues, they add.
For example, sources say, if a teacher had a student acting up or couldn't get a student to calm down, in the past the SROs sometimes tried to police the ornery kids themselves. Now they won't be involved.
"SROs will undergo extensive training in the areas that the Board of Education requested in our memo which was approved yesterday," Gaytan says, adding that it is "important to note that many of the systemic issues Denver students experienced with SROs in the past were due to the nature in which they were utilized by school administrators." Now the armed officers will be patrolling by a completely different set of rules.
"In our statement yesterday, we made clear that SROs were only to be used for safety and not as a part of the DPS student discipline process," Gaytan explains. "The district's long-term safety and security plan, to be developed in collaboration with the community at large, will have the final determination on the use of SROs, [and] other safety measures to include social workers, mental health supports and other wraparound services."
The move to get rid of SROs came amid protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020. The next month, the school board canceled a contract with the Denver Police Department to provide at least eighteen school resource officers around the district.
District sources describe Denver's re-implementation of the SRO program as "a quick emergency situation," and admit that things may not be perfect at the beginning. Since the program is only in place for the remainder of the 2022-2023 school year, the main objective is to gather data and see how the new SRO practices work out, so that officials can weed out any bad apples who don't fall in line with the new policing guidelines.
According to police officials, SROs were previously held to CASRO (Colorado Association of SROs) and NASRO (National Association of SROs) standards of conduct. If DPD officers continue to be in DPS high schools past the 2022-2023 school year, the department will make sure they re-certify.
"Denver Public Schools is pleased to hear that many of the officers who will be in our schools will meet CASRO and NASRO standards, which meet many of the criteria the board requested," says a BOE spokesperson.
The board expects a chance of emotional carryover from previous incidents and bad SRO policing, since some students who were negatively affected before they were banned almost three years ago may still be in school. The goal is to find and work with "the best possible officers," one source says, and to ensure that the armed officers "are only there for safety purposes."