Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

It’s becoming difficult to keep track of all of the bad ideas being tossed about this year, but among the worst would have to be the ill-conceived decision by the Denver Public Schools board to do away with school resource officers. They're the police officers stationed in schools who, among other things, protect students from the violence and predation that in other times would occupy headlines.

It was not so very long ago that the most compelling issue of the day was school safety. School shootings, in particular, were becoming alarmingly and tragically more prevalent, prompting calls to Do Something — often meaning the most simplistic and ideologically convenient option, i.e., gun control. But naturally, concern for the safety of schoolchildren managed to transcend political lines. Most came to realize that, inasmuch at it would necessarily be the police who would be the ones to respond to such an event, having the police nearby — or better yet, already on campus — was an abundantly sensible step in the right direction.

The utility of SROs extends well beyond simply being on hand to deter or respond to external threats of violence. The officers are also an invaluable resource for kids who are victims of any manner of crime. These cops make themselves available to kids who are in dangerous situations at home, or who are being harassed at or near school. Yes, part of their role is to identify the troublemakers and intervene early, which seems to be a confused complaint of the anti-SRO crowd; but pretending that such young people do not exist does not solve the problem they present, and how is it not better to intervene early and perhaps turn a life around before it goes too far astray? Identifying the signs and dealing effectively with them are things that most teachers and even most social workers are not necessarily equipped to do.

At least as importantly, school-based police are a much-needed link between law enforcement and the community, especially those communities where the perceived problems linger. Without the daily interactions with SROs, the first contact many of these kids will have with a police officer will be, by definition, negative. Police are generally not called to a scene to deliver flowers or parlay good news; they show up when something goes wrong, often violently wrong. SROs let the kids know that the police are there to protect them from the predators of society and to maintain the order without which society cannot function. If they know them as people first, they may not be as likely to fall for the contemptible myths which some use to stoke hatred for police and civil society.

It is worth noting that it goes both ways to some extent; it is good for a police officer’s soul every so often to be in places where the vast majority of young people are good, respectful, and have bright futures, after a few years on night shift where most of their contacts with young people are as victims — of abusers, sex traffickers, drug dealers and others — or as budding criminals themselves.

All of these functions — watchdog, resource, ambassador, even enforcer when that is what is needed — together provide for safer schools, safer communities, and offer kids a better chance at life in even some of the toughest public schools.

It is exceedingly difficult to quantify deterrence, but I would wager that the likelihood of some deranged mind encountering macabre success with a school shooting is substantially decreased if the attempt were to be made at a school where an armed, trained and motivated police officer is stationed, who views every one of the kids under his or her protection as his or her own.

Lamentably, it seems events, and the fluid nature of public conscience, have pushed the safety of schoolchildren off the radar.

Come to think of it, events have pushed a lot of formerly critically important crises to the back burner or beyond. It is sort of neat, in a vaguely disturbing way, how climate change dove pretty much overnight from its commanding perch as the most existential crisis ever to face mankind demanding immediate — IMMEDIATE — action, to being barely a second-tier concern, well below COVID and, now, the police.

Nobody has been entirely clear on what is to be gained from stripping the schools of their most valuable public safety resource, besides recklessly and irresponsibly feeding an ideological narrative. The fact is that all of the problems society faces — school safety, climate change, pandemic response, race relations, crime, the factors contributing to crime — all require a great deal more thought than what DPS, and in fact other local governing bodies, have given them.

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.

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