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Police officers have returned to Denver high schools after a years-long hiatus, but new data suggests they are arresting and ticketing students less frequently than before.
In the first semester of this school year, school resource officers — or SROs — stationed at 13 Denver high schools arrested five students and ticketed 25, according to district data that Chalkbeat obtained through an open records request.
In 2019-20, the last full school year that SROs were stationed in Denver schools, there were 30 student arrests and 160 tickets issued on those same 13 campuses, according to data from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.
It’s not clear from the 2019-20 data how many of those actions took place in the first semester, but it seems that the pace of ticketing and arrests has slowed this school year.
A similar slowdown occurred in the final two months of last school year, when SROs were temporarily reintroduced following a shooting inside East High School, which set off a heated debate about safety in Denver schools.
Though tickets and arrests are down, Black students are still disproportionately policed. A third of the students who were arrested or ticketed in the first semester of this school year, from August through December, were Black. But only 13% of Denver Public Schools students are Black.
Meanwhile, only 6% of the students ticketed or arrested in the first semester of this school year were white. A quarter of all DPS students are white.
About half of the tickets and arrests involved Hispanic or Latino students, who make up about 50% of DPS.
The data shows that two of the five student arrests were for motor vehicle theft. The other three arrests were for possession of a handgun, first degree assault, and robbery.
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Eight of the 30 tickets were issued to students for public fighting. Seven tickets were for assault. One ticket was issued for unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon, which could be a firearm or a knife, and another was issued for possession of a handgun.
It does not appear that the student who was arrested for a handgun and the student who was ticketed for a handgun were the same student. The student arrested was a 14-year-old male and the student ticketed was a 16-year-old male. The report doesn’t explain why one student was arrested and the other was ticketed.
Police officers were phased out of Denver schools in 2020 and 2021 because of concerns about the over-policing of Black students. The Denver school board voted to remove SROs following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
The East High shooting in March sparked a push to bring SROs back. When the Denver school board voted in June to permanently return police to schools, board members asked DPS to monitor tickets and arrests and “notify the Board if the district is aware of a disproportionate number of citations and arrests across marginalized identities.”
Board President Carrie Olson said the board got its first monitoring report on Dec. 31. SROs returned to Denver schools in August, and the monitoring reports were supposed to be quarterly. But because DPS did not finalize an agreement about the SROs with the Denver Police Department until late September, the reporting timeline was pushed back.
Melanie Asmar is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Colorado. Contact Melanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.