Denver Post February 19, 2013
By: Sadie Gurman
Denver Police officers who patrol the city's schools will write fewer citations for disciplinary infractions and will be trained yearly on when to intervene, according to an agreement signed Tuesday.
The pact emphasizes resolving discipline issues without criminal punishment. The limit on police involvement runs counter to the move nationally to ramp up police engagement at schools as an answer to mass shootings like the Dec. 14 rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary.
The agreement between the department and Denver Public Schools says officers and administrators should focus instead on "restorative justice" in which students take responsibility for misconduct to avoid harsher punishment.
It relaxes the "zero-tolerance" policies created in the wake of violence like the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.
The eight-page agreement, which renews and expands one drafted in 2004, tells school resource officers to intervene with an arrest or citation only in cases when it is absolutely necessary. Most disciplinary problems should be left to educators, who can prescribe actions that do not involve suspensions or expulsions. The goal is to keep students on track to graduate and their records unblemished.
The agreement draws "lines of demarcation" for educators and police who "have no desire to be disciplinarians," Denver Police Chief Robert White said. The department supplies 15 officers to work in 16 public schools. "Our job is to deal with serious violations of the law, and that's what we're going to do."
The document also calls for officers to be trained three times a year in topics such as teenage psychology and "cultural competence." It arose out of student and parent concerns that school resource officers were writing too many citations for minor problems. Tori Ortiz, a student leader for Padres & Jovenes Unidos, which rallied for the agreement, said officers were "writing tickets left and right" for offenses as small as bad language.
A friend was "ticketed for something so minor it was very unfair," Ortiz said. "They had all the resources to help her get out of it, but she still didn't have a chance to."
That trend, she said, has changed in recent years.
Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he expects the agreement to continue to lower the number of suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement.
Since the strategy was first adopted in 2004, law enforcement referrals dropped from 1,399 in the 2003-04 school year to just 512 in 2011-12, according to the district. Expulsions fell from 146 to 63 over the same time period.
Safety remains a priority, Boasberg said. Officers can and must punish students for severe misconduct such as drug offenses and assaults.
"It can't just be, more security, more security, more security," Boasberg said. "It's a recognition that a more holistic approach is most effective."
Sadie Gurman: 303-954-1661, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/sgurman
Denver Post February 19, 2013