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Auon’tai Anderson says DPS board didn’t backtrack on SRO reversal, claims mayor issued ultimatum

Auon’tai Anderson
Posted at 3:20 PM, Mar 27, 2023

DENVER — The Denver School Board member who led the charge in 2020 to phase out school resource officers said the board didn’t backtrack when it voted to reinstate SROs in the wake of Wednesday’s shooting and claimed the mayor threatened to use emergency powers if the board didn’t comply.

DPS Vice President Auon’tai Anderson made the statements during a Monday morning press conference he organized to address questions following the shooting at East High Schoolin Denver that injured two faculty members.

The shooting renewed cries from students and parents to increase safety at the school, including the reintroduction of SROs back into Denver Public Schools. Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero echoed those calls and announced that same day that is what was going to happen.

"In terms of what we can expect at East from here until the end of the school year, in collaboration with Chief Thomas and with support from our mayor and also communicated this to the Board of Education, that we will have two armed officers here at East until the end of the school year," Marrero said during a press briefing outside the school Wednesday.

The next day, the Denver Public School Board of Education suspended the controversial policy and directed Marrero to develop a long-term safety plan by the end of the summer. School board members cited “an increase in gun violence within our communities, which poses a threat to the safety of our schools,” as the reason for the reversal.

DPS removed SROs from all school campusesin the summer of 2020 amid protests over racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd by police. The shift away from an armed presence in schools followed concern that officers disproportionately arrest students of color.

When asked if the board backtracked when it suspended its 2020 decision, Anderson said board members were simply responding to what the community was demanding.

“We had over 1,000 emails, predominantly from folks that were impacted at the impacted school and in surrounding areas that were saying that they truly wanted the return of school resource officers,” Anderson said.

Anderson said that pressure from the community was not the only driving factor. The outspoken board member claims Mayor Michael Hancock threatened to use emergency powers to put armed officers back into schools if the board didn’t act.

“The mayor was the one who put the pressure on the district and again wanted to sign an executive order to deploy SROs and declare a public health emergency like he did with vaccinations,” Anderson said.

However, the mayor’s office disputes this claim, saying in a statement to Denver7, “The decision to return SROs to high schools was Superintendent Marrero’s decision alone, which the Mayor encouraged and supports, because it’s the right decision. There’s no truth to Director Anderson’s claim.”

Despite the back and forth, Anderson said funding for the redeployment of SROs back into DPS schools is not in the budget. He wants the city to foot the bill.

“With the temporary reintroduction of SROs, we were very clear the funding needs to come from the city,” he said. “DPS doesn't have the budget to provide two cops per every high school. And we have over we have almost 80 high schools in the district.”

In addition to armed officers, Anderson said the board is looking to add mental health resources for students and staff.

“We've said it must be cops and counselors. We've asked for the mayor of Denver to provide mental health professionals to every single site that we are providing an SRO. And so the ball is in the mayor's court,” Anderson said.

Armed Denver police officers will be back at East High School beginning next Monday when students return from spring break. Marrero has until June 30 to develop a long-term safety plan based on community input before he presents it to the board for review.

It’s unclear what impact bringing SROs back into school buildings will have on curtailing gun violence across Denver schools.

Countless studies have been done on the use of SROs on campuses across the nation, but despite in-depth research, the impact they have on schools remains inconclusive.

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