DENVER—The Denver Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday night to reduce the number of police officers assigned to schools by 25% by the end of the calendar year and to end its partnership with the Denver Police Department by the end of next school year.
Board Vice President Jennifer Bacon, a co-sponsor of the resolution, introduced the resolution by saying it was time to address over-policing in schools and shift resources.
“While our school resource officers are great people who love our students,” she said, “we want to address the systemic issues our students face.”
School district leaders nationwide are questioning their partnerships with police amid protests over racism and racial disparities in policing. Civil rights groups and student activists for years have been pushing some districts to cut ties with police departments.
But police groups and some school safety experts worry that school leaders are acting rashly and ending valuable programs that protect students and build trust between communities and the police.
“We’re looking at the national narrative versus what we’re actually dealing with here in Denver,” said Francisco Alba, a school resource officer at Denver’s Manual High School who called in to Thursday’s board meeting.
School leaders in Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis have announced that their schools will no longer host police officers, known as school resource officers or SROs. And school leaders in Oakland, California, want to eliminate the district’s police force.
Several Denver school principals and deans called in to the Thursday meeting to ask the board to keep the program or to embrace a slower approach to phasing it out.
Most officers serving in Denver schools are black or Hispanic and grew up in the communities they serve, said Derek Hawkins, dean of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College.
They often write tickets or make arrests after school administrators ask them to step in, he said — which points to a bigger problem of racial discrimination in schools. “Our personnel are just as responsible for these tickets being issued,” he said.
Denver public school students were ticketed or arrested at school more than 4,500 times between fall 2014 and spring 2019, according to Colorado Division of Criminal Justice statistics compiled by Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, a Denver-based civil rights group.
About 87% of the 679 Denver students who received a summons and 83% of 65 students who were arrested at school during the 2018-19 academic year were nonwhite, according to state statistics. Such students comprised 75% of the district’s student population.
The data doesn’t show how many incidents involved school resource officers and how many involved other police officers. Marijuana-related crimes, assault and disorderly conduct or fighting were the most-cited crimes.
Denver Board of Education Secretary Tay Anderson was set to hold a news conference today to discuss what’s next for the district. “I’m looking forward to redesigning discipline in the Denver Public Schools with my colleagues and also with school leaders,” he said during Thursday’s meeting.
The board’s decision doesn’t affect the more than 100 public safety officers who work for the district and aren’t members of the police department.
The board has asked Superintendent Susana Cordova to shift the $721,000 it reportedly spends annually on 18 police officers to other personnel who support students, such as social workers, psychologists and other mental and behavioral health professionals.
The board also has asked the superintendent to create a monthly school discipline report and to work with students and community members to come up with a new plan for keeping students safe and making sure calling the police is a last resort.
The Denver Police Department said in an emailed statement that it respects the Board of Education’s decision.
“We will work to ensure there is a comprehensive transition plan and will still be there to support the schools, students and staff as needed,” the statement said.