Amid Monday’s terrifying news that a shooting had left six teenagers wounded at a park close to a high school in Aurora, there was a welcome reassurance: None of the teens had sustained life-threatening injuries. One of the victims did have to undergo emergency surgery.
One other bright spot emerged from the awful event: An Aurora police officer — serving as a school resource officer at nearby Aurora Central High School — came to the rescue. Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson told The Gazette the officer had responded to the shooting and provided a "life saving" tourniquet to the victim who later had surgery.
It’s just the latest illustration — an especially powerful one — of the value of having cops on campus at public schools across Colorado.
The law officers who serve in schools develop a rapport with the students and even build close ties with some. They intervene to head off the tension that can divide kids and lead to confrontations. They counterbalance the social pressure and temptations that can lead teens and at times pre-teens astray into crime and drug abuse.
And at critical moments like the one in Aurora this week, they can save lives. Heaven forbid a Colorado school should face an even more catastrophic event — the kind with which our state is, tragically, all too familiar. Wouldn’t we all want law officers on the scene to stem the chaos — and head off unspeakable violence?
This week’s victims, all students at Aurora Central, were lucky their own school’s resource officer was on hand; at press time, suspects still were at large. Meanwhile, kids at many other Colorado public schools along the Front Range can take similar comfort knowing the steady hand of the law is there to protect them.
All of which underscores the absurdity of last year’s nationwide fad among some school boards — including Denver’s — to kick their district police officers off campus. The movement’s supposed premise was to curtail the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline,” which presumes kids of color who interact with cops will wind up behind bars.
But what if the cops themselves are people of color? What if the kids actually like and trust the cops to protect them? And what if, someday, those cops wind up saving kids’ lives?
Let’s be honest: The cynical and self-serving campaign by politicians and activists to expel police officers from our public schools has nothing to do with our children’s welfare and well-being. It’s all about scoring points with the political fringe — at the expense of our children’s security. Where implemented, it leaves children in jeopardy — especially kids at schools in neighborhoods that are wracked by violence and other crime. Especially children of color.
Some other Colorado school boards get it — and reap the rewards of police protection for the children and parents whom all school districts are supposed to serve.
Colorado Springs metro-area school districts, for example, have held fast to their corps of school resource officers staffed by Colorado Springs police.
“SROs are critical to reducing the school-to-prison pipeline,” Susan Payne, a school security expert, told The Gazette last year. Payne became the area’s first school resource officer in 1995 in the Harrison School District. “SROs focus on prevention by intervening at the earliest point and being part of the solution for students who might be on a path to violence.”
And who could forget the outpouring of grief last June at Arvada’s Oberon Middle School when its students and faculty learned their beloved, longtime school resource officer had been ambushed and killed in the line of duty while temporarily assigned to street patrol. As reported at the time, Arvada Police Officer Gordon Beesley was known for helping students who got into trouble with the law; he would assure them and their parents that they would get through any problems they had. Beesley was revered for his kindly and supportive deeds on behalf of the kids. Like biking to school alongside a seventh grader with a developmental disability after learning the student liked bicycles but that his mother did not want him riding alone.
Officers like Beesley are cherished where they serve on campus. Yet, they are cast aside by school boards like Denver’s that would rather play politics than keep our kids safe. Some of Denver Public Schools’ own administrators had pleaded with the board to let the police stay.
“There is a lot of evidence from our school sites in Denver that have SROs that they are an incredible asset,” Principal Scott Wolf at Denver’s North High School Principal told the board. “I do not think anyone except those of us who work with SROs understand what (they do) on a daily basis and how they serve as peace officers.”
He was talking to a wall. Even if Denver’s board did “understand,” they likely didn’t care enough to do the right thing. Their reckless action sent a message to all the district’s parents: If you really value your kids’ safety, send them to school somewhere else. Try Aurora.
Denver Gazette editorial board