DENVER — Denver Public Schools is planning to increase the number of armed safety patrol officers and their power to issue tickets to students.
DPS plans to add four additional safety patrol officers, which brings the total to 22. The officers will help respond to issues that arise across 200 schools.
Several months ago, the school district began working with the City Attorney’s Office and the Department of Public Safety to authorize safety officers to issue tickets to students for at least 15 low-level offenses varying from fights to possession of drugs.
In 2020, the Denver Public Schools Board unanimously voted on a resolution to cut ties with the Denver Police Department. The goal was to end student policing and help pour more resources into mental health resources for students. Over the course of several months, 18 DPD School Resource Officers were phased out.
Elizabeth Burciaga, a lead organizer with Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, said they fought hard to get rid of police officers in schools and called the districts to move a direct violation of the resolution passed last year.
“I don’t see the difference, at the end of the day it’s still policing,” Burciaga said.
DPS disagrees. They said unlike SRO officers, safety patrol officers are not assigned to a school 100% of the time, they are dispatched to address safety concerns.
“Their focus is on responding to significant safety threats, not on the criminalization of students,” DPS said in a statement.
Burciaga fears citations will be taxing on student’s mental health, finances and their future.
“It’s really harmful to our students because it could push them to the criminal justice system,” Burciaga said.
Studies have shown Black and Latino students are more likely to be ticketed and suspended by officers on the school campus. According to Chalkbeat, Black students are ticketed and arrested at a higher rate in Denver. A study the publication released showed between 2018 and 2019, Black students only made up 13% of the student population but 25% of the tickets and arrests.
According to DPS, officers have not been granted the power to issues tickets. However, a spokesperson with the Department of Public Safety says the decision was approved and finalized back in April by the executive director of the organization.
DPS disputes the approval. They say the City Attorney’s Office has yet to sign off.
The school district said they are not currently issuing tickets. They hope to have the final approval in the coming weeks.
A spokesperson with DPS said increasing the power of safety officers means they have more leeway on whether the student should or shouldn’t get a ticket instead of relying on the discretion of Denver Police Officers when they are called to the scene.
“For example, rather than calling DPD, a safety patrol officer could be called to respond to possession of drugs by a student and the safety officer could dispose of the drugs and choose not to ticket a student,” a statement from DPS says.
Padres & Jóvenes Unidos has launched a petition they say aims to end the criminalization of students at DPS.
“Our community will be holding them accountable,” Burciaga said. “We are pushing for the safety of our students. We are pushing for our kids to live in a safe healthy equitable community.”