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Denver school resource officers talk about being back in schools before fall semester starts

Chief Ron Thomas promises fewer citations of minority students through new procedures including a three-day "cooling off" period for incidents like fights.

DENVER — After two shootings at East High School in Denver last spring, there was a lot of talk about school resource officers. On Friday, Denver Police offered a chance to talk to two of them in front of a collection of cameras and reporters.

"It's nerve-wracking, period," Tim Cueva, school resource officer for 13 years, said.

Stephanie Reyes just started as an SRO this year.

"I have kids of my own. I want to make sure they are protected and I want to make sure that these kids feel just as protected as I hope mine do," Reyes said.

After the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the Denver School Board had concerns that minority students were being unfairly targeted and voted to remove SROs from campuses. Cueva and other officers had been working in schools for years.

 "My perception for me, it was an emotional thing. I'm totally invested in this position. I felt gutted," Cueva said.

But after a student, Luis Garcia, was killed outside of East High School and two administrators were shot and injured by a student who carried a gun into the same school, the school board voted to bring SROs back to campuses around the city.

"It's a great opportunity for us to go out there and be a positive impact for kids. You have to bridge that gap between you and the community," Cueva said.

Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said things will be different this time, promising changes including a three-day "cooling off" period for incidents like fights in school. Thomas said the goal is to try to reduce police citations for all students, especially minorities.

"Connecting them with resources and having sort of a diversion program so that they can kind of resolve that criminal complaint without having to enter into the criminal justice system," Thomas said. "So, I really don’t foresee seeing an issue going forward where we see an overwhelming number of tickets or citations being issued to students of color."

Both Reyes and Cueva believe that SROs can prevent crimes in schools before they happen.

"Walking through the hallways, being present and being open and having kids see that you genuinely care and that you are there to support them and be there for them," Reyes said.

When Denver Public Schools return to classes on Aug. 21, two SROs will be stationed at East High School. Twelve more SROs will be either floating between schools or stationed on other campuses.

"For us to be welcomed back is a very, very big deal and I'm very personally invested in making sure that it's successful," Reyes said.

Movimiento Poder is a community organization and its leaders have said they oppose the return of SROs to Denver campuses and promise to watch carefully to see if minority students are being treated fairly.

Cueva said he is just happy to connect with kids again.

"There’s plenty enough to do there on the daily basis, trust me. On the same hand, I would not trade this job for all the money in the world," Cueva said. "I’m in the twilight part of my career. This is the best job the department has to offer so for me to go out there and try to be a positive impact on a daily basis for these kids, I’ll take every minute that I have for the rest of my career to do that."


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