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Data shows high-priority calls for police at DPS schools is at a similar count with and without SROs

Those more urgent calls are typically for a suicidal person, a fight or weapons, according to police data.

DENVER — Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a focus on the 19 Denver Public School campuses that lost a school resource officer by the end of 2021. The trend that was initially reported holds.

Denver Police are asked to respond to high-priority calls at Denver Public Schools a similar number of times regardless of whether there are school resource officers present or not, 9Wants to Know has found.

School resource officers (SRO) were phased out of DPS in 2021. They returned to schools in April after a student shot and injured two administrators at East High School in March.

9Wants to Know sequestered data for the 19 campuses that DPS said lost an SRO officer by the end of 2021. There were about the same number of high-priority calls to the addresses in 2022 compared with 2019. There were 11 more high-priority calls in 2019 compared with 2022.

Calls are considered higher priority if emergency responders deem there is a higher risk for harm and thus requires a quicker response.

Doug Schepman, director of communications for Denver Police, wrote in an email that additional officers respond on "most high-priority calls for service" alongside an SRO. And SROs prioritize building rapport with students.

"DPD believes that fostering trust and encouraging students to share their concerns are critically important to ensuring safety," Schepman wrote.

A higher percentage of calls were for high-priority issues in 2022 compared with 2019 19% of calls to Denver Police from a DPS school that lost an SRO were for high-priority issues in 2022. That is up from 7% of calls in 2019.

Most of the more urgent calls at former-SRO schools were seeking help for fights, a suicidal person or weapons.

Graphic made by 9NEWS data producer Zack Newman.

The number of overall calls to schools that lost an SRO went up last year compared with the previous two years, but it went down from highs in 2018 and 2019. It is unclear from the data who made the calls and whether the calls occurred during school hours.

In an exception to the trend, East Campus, where East High School is located, had 20 high priority calls in 2022 compared with 10 in 2019.

Type in a name of campus that lost a SRO to see the trend at that address. Graphic made by 9NEWS data producer Zack Newman.

Schepman wrote that six DPD districts have an officer designated as a liaison for middle and high schools that don't have an assigned SRO. The officers act as a "point of contact and resource" for school leaders. Schepman wrote that Chief Ron Thomas started the program after Luis Garcia was shot and killed near East High School in February 2023.

Seventeen SROs were removed from 19 DPS school campuses by the end of 2021 with a goal of “dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline,” according to a DPS primer on the project.

The document said the other roughly 170 schools in the district operated without SROs and would “continue to do so.”

DPS has its own Department of Safety with 140 team members. 9NEWS has reported that they must call Denver Police to make an arrest. Safety team members have the authority to issue tickets for minor offenses like drug possession and fighting.

For all DPS schools, there were 930 high-priority calls in 2019 and 854 in 2022. Those higher-priority calls were typically for a suicidal person, a fight or weapons.

In-person classes were not held for much of 2020 due to the pandemic.

Graphic made by 9NEWS data producer Zack Newman.

Most of the more urgent calls were to the campus of Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello, Noel Community Art School and STRIVE Prep Montbello from 2018 through March 2023.

Andrea Webber, records administrator for the Denver Department of Public Safety, wrote in an email that it was difficult to identify the exact location of each call at campuses with multiple schools at the same addresses. Because of that, 9Wants to Know focused its analysis on the address where the school campus is based.

From 2018 to this year, police were called to these five DPS campuses most often for high-priority calls:

  1. Montbello Campus at 5000 N. Crown Blvd: 107 calls
  2. North Campus at 2960 N. Speer Blvd: 103 calls
  3. West Campus at 951 N. Elati St: 96 calls
  4. Lake Campus at 1820 N. Lowell Blvd: 95 calls
  5. Evie Dennis Campus 4800 N. Telluride St: 94 calls

All five campuses lost an SRO by the end of 2021.

The total number of calls from DPS to Denver Police was up slightly in 2022 compared with the past couple of years but was down from a high of 10,509 calls in 2018.

Most calls were for special assignments like parades, "self-initiated actions" and assaults. A self-initiated action is when an officer initiates an investigation themselves without being called to do so.

Graphic made by 9NEWS data producer Zack Newman.

Scott Pribble, a DPS spokesperson, wrote in an email that no specific cause for this trend stands out.

“There are a myriad of possible reasons for these numbers, but not a specific cause such as a change in district policy,” Pribble wrote.

Pribble did not respond to follow-up questions. 

It is unclear whether the pandemic affected the number of calls and in what way.

Read about the data process here. 

Reach investigative reporter Zack Newman at 303-548-9044. You can also call or text securely on Signal through that same number. Email: zack.newman@9news.com. Call or text is preferred over email.

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