Denver police officials spoke positively about the agreement but said it reflects a continuing effort. The city has 15 police, called school resource officers, in its 170 schools. That number has remained steady even as the citywide force has not been able to hire because of economic strain, police said.
“I like to think we were already doing it right, but we’ve memorialized what we were doing in writing,” said David Quinones, the Denver Police Department’s deputy chief of operations. The goal of police has not been to arrest students, he said, but to create a safe campus and be good role models. “Now it’s more defined,” he added.
The security concerns that follow tragedies nationally are shared in Denver. Changes in police practices followed Columbine, Quinones said, and after Sandy Hook, patrol officers are required to build relationships with all schools in their precincts. As happened elsewhere, he said, “Connecticut really opened our eyes.”
Civil rights organizations said Denver stands out not only for its approach toward police and restorative justice, but for its strong community collaboration and for staying the course after Sandy Hook.
“It’s pretty incredible that in the midst of school districts rushing to expand the role of police in schools that Denver public schools is pursuing a different course,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, which works on discipline issues nationally and was involved in the Denver effort.
Several hundred students have taken part in the effort over the past decade, organizers said.
“Our main goal is to end the school-to-jail track,” said David Valenzuela, 17, a student leader. “What I’m hoping to see is that students are going to have a much better relationship with SROs and won’t be ticketed for minor things.”
The new agreement includes community meetings every semester and consideration of schooling when police choose times for student questioning. Educators are to handle routine discipline issues without calling on police and work to defuse problems, too.
Boasberg said he continues to believe police presence at schools is important. “I think it’s really important not to have an either-or approach,” he said.
Steven Teske, a juvenile-court judge in Clayton County, Ga., who led a similar effort in his area in 2003 with police, community leaders, school officials and others, said the results have been positive.
Teske said schools are safer when police are focused on big offenses and have better relationships with students, and thus get stronger tips. Serious weapons offenses have decreased more than 70 percent in the past decade in his county, he said.
“Our police are not running off here and there” chasing minor transgressions, Teske said.
He said students “just want police who care about them, who will think before they act, who understand adolescent development . . . and that there are other alternatives to putting on the handcuffs.”