Feb 22, 2023 - News

Shootings push leaders, mayoral candidates to revisit police in schools

Illustration of a series of successively larger police badges being drawn on a chalkboard.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

More than two years after Denver Public Schools removed police officers from its halls, leaders are starting to rethink the approach.

Driving the news: The mounting pressure to bring back police comes after shootings last week outside East High School and the three schools at the downtown Emily Griffith campus, our partners at Chalkbeat report.

State of play: The question — though ultimately in the hands of the school board — is also emerging in the Denver mayor's race, John reports.

  • Six candidates expressed support for the idea during a debate Thursday. State Sen. Chris Hansen, Tattered Cover CEO Kwame Spearman and City Council member Debbie Ortega were all in favor.
  • Other front-runners Kelly Brough and Mike Johnston support giving the choice to individual schools.

The big picture: Denver is not alone. A rise in youth violence at school campuses is prompting other localities to revisit their policies, including in St. Paul, Minnesota, where a 15-year-old student was fatally stabbed earlier this month.

What they're saying: Two education leaders want action now. Vernon Jones, a former assistant principal at Manual High School, and former East High Principal John Youngquist want the district to implement a program known as PEERS. It assigns an officer to schools to establish better relationships with students.

  • "What's holding it back is the politics," said Jones, who came up with the idea.

Of note: Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas tells Axios Denver his officers need to have "healthy relationships" with young people by connecting them with schools, though he stopped short of saying the district needs to bring back officers in schools.

  • "I don't know that that's a place that we'll ever go back to," Thomas said.
  • Superintendent Alex Marrero says gun violence is his top concern, but he has not yet commented on the shooting of an East student. Luis Garcia, 16, remains in critical condition, his family says.

The other side: A number of criminal justice reform advocates, including mayoral candidates Lisa Calderon and Leslie Herod, reject the idea that police are needed in schools.

The intrigue: Denver school board vice president Auon'tai "Tay" Anderson, who helped lead the push to remove police, said he stands by his decision.

  • "The situations that have transpired this week at Emily Griffith and East were not in Denver Public Schools buildings," where school resource officers would have been stationed, Anderson said. "These were on our streets. The school board can't make a reactionary decision to reinstate police officers where an SRO wouldn't have been impactful."

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