Removing SROs from Schools: A Step Towards Justice and Safety for Students of Color

The Board of Education in Denver made a unanimous decision in June of 2020 to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from Denver schools after nearly a decade of student advocacy. Since then, there has been an ongoing discussion about the presence of police officers in Denver high schools. While there have been concerns about the safety and well-being of students, it’s important to acknowledge the negative impacts that SROs can have on students, particularly students of color.

It’s important to note that even if there had been an SRO present on campus, they would not have been able to prevent the drive-by shooting that occurred on the city streets outside of the school. This highlights the fact that SROs are not a panacea for preventing violence in our schools and underscores the need for broader, community-based solutions to address the root causes of violence.

Research has shown that SROs can contribute to the criminalization of normal student behavior, leading to over-policing and disproportionate disciplinary action for students of color. This can perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline and contribute to a breakdown in trust between law enforcement and communities of color. The removal of SROs from Denver schools has resulted in an 81% decline in ticketing and citations among students.

School Resource Officers (SROs) are police officers stationed in schools to maintain safety and order, but they have been shown to have negative impacts on students of color in several ways. Here are some facts and statistics to consider:

  1. Black, Latino, and Indigenous students are more likely to be disciplined and arrested than white students, even for similar offenses, in schools with SROs present. In fact, a study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that Black students were nearly three times more likely to be arrested at school than white students.
  2. Students of color report feeling less safe when SROs are present in their schools. A survey conducted by the National Urban League found that 72% of Black students and 66% of Latino students felt less safe with SROs in their schools.
  3. SROs can contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, which is a phenomenon where students are pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system. This is particularly true for students of color, who are more likely to be targeted by SROs and other law enforcement officers in schools.
  4. There have been numerous instances where SROs have used excessive force against students of color. For example, in 2015, a police officer in South Carolina violently arrested a Black high school student for refusing to leave her classroom.
  5. Research has shown that SROs are not effective at preventing school shootings. In fact, a study by the Urban Institute found that the presence of SROs had no impact on the likelihood of a school shooting occurring.
  6. In instances of school shootings like Parkland and Uvalde, where SROs were present, they failed to intervene and prevent the loss of life. In the Parkland shooting, the SRO on duty remained outside the building where the shooting was taking place, and in the Uvalde shooting, the SRO on duty failed to stop the shooter before he killed two students.
  7. The presence of SROs in schools can create a culture of fear and intimidation, especially for students of color. This can lead to lower academic achievement and increased absenteeism, as well as other negative outcomes.
  8. SROs can also contribute to the over-criminalization and surveillance of students of color. For example, a 2019 report by the ACLU found that in one school district in California, SROs were collecting data on students’ social media activity and using it to identify potential threats.
  9. The cost of hiring SROs is often borne by school districts, which can divert resources away from other critical areas like mental health services and academic programs. In fact, some studies have shown that the cost of hiring SROs may be higher than the cost of implementing evidence-based violence prevention programs.

These are just a few examples of the negative impacts of SROs on students of color. While some argue that SROs are necessary to maintain safety in schools, the evidence suggests that they may be doing more harm than good.

At the same time, it is crucial to promote policies and practices that prioritize the safety and well-being of all students while also addressing the underlying issues of systemic racism and police brutality. This includes calling on the Denver Police Department to provide training to law enforcement officers to address implicit bias and racial disparities in the criminal justice system, as well as advocating for the implementation of restorative justice practices in schools. By working together, we can create a more just and equitable society where every person is treated with dignity and respect.

Denver Public Schools (DPS) has a dedicated department of safety that works collaboratively with school administrators, staff, and law enforcement to develop and implement comprehensive safety plans for each school. The department provides a range of services and resources to support schools in promoting a safe and secure learning environment, including threat assessments, emergency response planning, security assessments, and security training for staff and students. DPS also employs a team of licensed mental health professionals who provide support to students and staff.

There are many ways that we can work to promote safety and well-being for students, such as providing comprehensive mental health support, investing in community-based programs and resources, and fostering positive relationships between students, staff, and the surrounding community.

I also want to address a common misconception that all cops are bad. This is not true, and there are many police officers who are dedicated to serving and protecting their communities. In fact, I believe that it is important to work with law enforcement to ensure that our schools and communities are safe.

Just this week, I lobbied the Mayor of Denver and the Chief of Police to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Denver Public Schools to ensure that we have clear expectations on how our school district and city should work together. This MOU will help to ensure that our schools are safe, while also addressing the concerns of students, parents, and community members.

However, I also believe that it is essential for all police officers in Denver to know how to interact with our students in a positive and supportive way. We should not only have 18 cops that know how to engage with our children, but all cops in Denver should be trained on how to effectively engage with students in a way that is respectful, culturally responsive, and focused on de-escalation.

By doing so, we can work to build positive relationships between law enforcement and our communities, which will ultimately lead to a safer and more just society. This approach will also help to address some of the negative impacts that SROs have on students of color and will ensure that all students feel safe and supported in their schools.

It’s important to note that while the Denver School Board is committed to promoting the safety and well-being of all students, the burden of keeping students safe cannot solely rest on the school board’s shoulders. It is essential for the current and future City Council and Mayor to step up and address the root causes of gun violence and work collaboratively with the school district to create safe and supportive environments for all students.

As a member of the Board of Education in Denver, I am committed to promoting policies and practices that prioritize the safety and well-being of all students while also addressing the underlying issues of systemic racism and police brutality. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the school board is not the city council, and the city must take responsibility for addressing the broader issues of violence in our community.

This includes implementing evidence-based violence prevention programs, investing in community-based programs and resources, and fostering positive relationships between law enforcement and communities of color. By working together, we can create a more just and equitable society where every person is treated with dignity and respect.

In conclusion, while the Denver School Board has made the decision to remove SROs from our schools, it is essential for the current and future City Council and Mayor to step up and address the broader issues of violence in our community. By working collaboratively, we can create safe and supportive learning environments for all students, while also addressing the underlying issues of systemic racism and police brutality. Together, we can create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students.

Auon’tai M. Anderson, Vice President of the Denver School Board

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The Honorable Auon’tai M. Anderson

The Honorable Auon'tai M. Anderson, is a former Denver School Board Member and CEO of the Center for Advancing Black Excellence in Education.