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More handcuffed cases than initially reported by Denver Public Schools

Most of the incidents happened with students of color, students in middle school and in the Montbello area.
Credit: Thinkstock

The number of students handcuffed by Denver Public Schools Department of Safety staff is close to triple what was initially reported by the district.

DPS in May said staff had put 58 students in handcuffs from 2017 to 2019. 9Wants to Know has since learned that number is 155, almost triple that initial report.

Most of the incidents happened with students of color, students in middle school and students in the Montbello area. 

9NEWS does not have information on what student behavior led to the handcuffing.

The data

The ages of the students placed in handcuffs varies from as young as 7 years old up to 19 years old. The highest number of arrests happened to 11-year-olds and 12-year-olds.

Students of color make up the majority of students getting placed in handcuffs. Of the 154 cases where race and ethnicity were reported, 69 of them were black students, 43 were Hispanic, 33 were white, two were Asian and one was Indian.

Credit: KUSA

To put it in percentages, although Black students only make up 13% of the district, they make up 45% of the students being handcuffed.

Hispanic students make up the largest part of the district and the second-largest group being handcuffed.

White students were handcuffed 21% of the time.

Brandon Pryor's 7-year-old son was handcuffed earlier this year inside Florida Pitt Waller School. 

RELATED: 'There’s never a reason for a 7-year-old to be placed in handcuffs': Father calls for change after incident at Denver school

"Wow, so there are over a hundred more cases than we had thought of students being handcuffed and I’m looking, and the majority of these students are black students,” said Pryor. 

Pryor said his family wanted change because of what they believe are the lasting impacts of having a child in handcuffs.

"My son, in particular, he’s questioned whether or not he’s a good kid," explained Pryor. "He apologizes for everything now, so that breaks my heart.”

Pryor's family did get some change from DPS, in the four months since the handcuffing the district has agreed to limit the restraining practice in elementary schools.

RELATED: DPS approves policy to limit handcuff use following incident involving 7-year-old

“Everybody thought it was a done deal and ready to celebrate when we got handcuffs removed from the elementary schools," he said. "But obviously there’s still a problem for our high school students and especially our middle school students.”

Schools where handcuffing happened vary across the district, but the schools with the most amount of incidents were Montbello (16), George Washington (9), Bill Roberts (8), Hamilton (8), and Strive Prep Lake (8).

The interactive map below shows all the DPS schools where students were placed in handcuffs. (Can't see the map? Click/tap here.)

'We have a duty...to make sure our schools are safe'

DPS Chief of Safety Michael Eaton told 9NEWS he’s working to provide transparency and better deescalating training.

“When we found that there was a discrepancy, we didn’t hide behind it,” Eaton said. “We reported it, we own it, and we’re sharing it.”

He also shared what the Department of Safety is changing to ensure that handcuffs are used only in severe and critical situations and not as disciplinary measures.

“We don’t want to use handcuffs on students,” he said. "That’s not why we’re here… We have a duty and obligation to make sure our schools are safe, that our officers are safe, our teachers are safe.”

Eaton said the solution is not getting rid of handcuffs completely. 

"But when a student becomes a danger to themselves or others and is not deescalating and a restraint is needed and that restraint involves use of handcuffs, then we have done that,” Eaton said.

Eaton said his team has met with different community partners, students and staff to see how everyone can work together to deescalate situations better.

“It’s not just on the Department of Safety to support these kids, respond and mitigate. It’s on the school. It’s on our teachers,” Eaton said. “There is absolutely opportunity for us to do better, and we’re committed to doing that.”

Changes coming to DPS

DPS scheduled training before the 2019/2020 school year starts for campus safety and patrol officers.

The training will focus on crisis intervention, non-violent crisis intervention, verbal and physical deescalation, trauma-informed response, and anti-bias training.

Eaton said they’re increasing hours of training for officers to go through real-life scenarios tailored to DPS and the challenges of urban districts.

In addition to the training, Eaton said all incidents involving handcuffs will be reviewed by an additional team at the district to make sure they were warranted.

Before this, the district’s additional team only reviewed incidents if they were flagged by someone.

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