Student Arrests: Most Police Agencies Violating Law About Reporting Busts, Citations

Just 22 percent of Colorado law enforcement agencies and district attorneys complied with a new state law that requires them to submit reports about their contacts with students -- a number that the group Padres y Jovenes Unidos says is disappointing. The Smart School Discipline Law was passed in 2012 and requires that such agencies submit reports by August 1 each year detailing their interactions with students, whether those interactions consist of a police investigation, an arrest or a prosecution.

See also: Denver Police and DPS Agree: No More Tickets for Bad Language, Minor Scuffles

"Without that data, we can't see where things are working and where they're not," says Kerianne Smith, the statewide manager for a Padres y Jovenes Unidos campaign called End the School to Jail Track.

The Denver Police Department was among the agencies that complied and submitted a report to the state Division of Criminal Justice. But the office of Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has not yet done so. The information in the DPD report includes the number of students investigated, ticketed or arrested at each school; the crimes they're suspected of committing; and the students' age, gender and race.

For instance, the report shows that thirty East High School students were ticketed or issued summonses for marijuana-related offenses during the 2013-14 school year, while two were arrested for pot-related crimes. Of those 32 students, 26 were male and six were female. In addition, the data shows that fourteen of the 32 students were black, thirteen were white, four were Hispanic and one was Native American.

At North High School, the offenses that generated the most police interaction also involved marijuana. Nineteen students were ticketed or issued summonses for marijuana possession, but none were arrested. Sixteen of the students were male and three were female. In terms of race, seventeen of the nineteen were Hispanic and two were white.

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At Thomas Jefferson High School, however, pot-related offenses generated less attention than public fighting. Thirteen students, eleven of whom were female, were ticketed for fighting. Seven of the students were black, four were Hispanic and two were white.

George Washington High School also had a high number of tickets or summonses issued for public fighting: seventeen in all. Ten of the students were female and seven of the students were male. The data shows that all seventeen were black.

Continue for more on racial disparities in school discipline. Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a Denver-based organization that supported the Smart School Discipline Law, is especially concerned with racial disparities in school discipline. In March, it issued a report called the Colorado School Discipline Report Card (on view below). The report concluded that black students are almost four times as likely to be suspended, expelled or referred to law enforcement as white students. Native American and Hispanic students also experience a higher rate of punishment than white students, the report showed.

The aim of the Smart School Discipline Law was to reform so-called zero-tolerance school discipline policies. The law requires districts to eliminate automatic expulsions except in cases where a student brings a gun to school and encourages them to limit the number of suspensions and expulsions in favor of restorative justice, peer mediation and other tactics. It also requires school resource officers to undergo special training.

The reporting requirements are meant to show whether the law is working. School districts, law enforcement agencies and district attorneys are all required to submit reports by August 1 of each year. School district data is widely available -- and Padres y Jovenes Unidos's analysis of that data shows that while the number of expulsions and suspensions is decreasing, racial discrimination in school discipline still exists.

But law enforcement data has been harder to come by, which makes it difficult to ascertain what happens when a disciplinary situation escalates from a school matter to a police matter. According to Padres y Jovenes Unidos, only 64 of 281 law enforcement agencies and four of the state's 22 judicial districts submitted reports by the deadline.

"It is disappointing to see that twelve months into the data collection, we still do not have the majority of agencies reporting," state Senator Linda Newell, who sponsored the law, said in a statement. "So we are now working together again to see how we can get everyone on board and compliant with the law."

Smith agrees. "The general reaction here is that it's disappointing," she says. Padres y Jovenes Unidos would like to analyze the data to see which school districts have the highest rates of law enforcement involvement and the most racial disparities, but she says it's not cost-effective to pay for that analysis when so little of the data has been filed.

"We have limited resources," she explains.

Which means the organization will have to wait for the data to trickle in.

Read Padres y Jovenes Unidos's Colorado School Discipline Report Card below.

Colorado School Discipline Report Card

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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