DENVER, Colorado — There have been two shootings at Denver's East High School in the last month. The tragedies have led to calls for more to be done about school safety and to the reinstatement of school resource officers at all Denver Public Schools.
Terrance Carroll began as a legislator only a few years after Columbine. He is the former Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives and a retired law enforcement officer.
He joined Angeline McCall to talk about the possible downfalls of a reactionary response to emotional events like this.
You can watch their full conversation below.
Editor's note: Some of the questions and answers have been edited for clarity and context.
9NEWS: After an event like this, tell me a little bit, considering your experience what you see as happening now, in terms of legislative action?
Carroll: Anytime we see an event like East, any high school shooting, any event that that is a major crisis that traumatizes people, there's a tendency for lawmakers, policy makers to try to fix it right away. Oftentimes, you end up with reactionary lawmaking, reactionary policies that may at the time seem like good politics, but long term, it's probably bad public policy.
You were elected in 2002, and then sworn in 2003. Just a few years after Columbine, so tell me a little bit about this cycle that you've seen over the past 20 years when an event as tragic as this continues to happen.
Carroll: After Columbine, I remember it vividly because I was married, and I was dropping my stepdaughter off at school when I heard the news about what was happening. Immediately everyone was like 'okay, we need to change the law, we need to do this, we need to do that' which is understandable. It's what you expect, because people are fearful. I was fearful. Parents who had children at Columbine, other high schools were fearful. So you see lawmakers then respond to the perceived needs - that fear that people have - sometimes you get good law out of it, sometimes you get a bad law out of it. But it's a constant cycle that happens over and over again. It happens because lawmakers and the way that we do law is reactionary. We respond to things that happen, as opposed to being proactive most of the time.
What harm can that do when the reaction is maybe too fast, and maybe not thought through?
Carroll: The harm that happens is that you end up stuck with a law that may not have been very well thought through...all the consequences, the unintended consequences. Granted, you can never know what they all are, even when you take time to go through it, but you're more than likely to have consequences that you didn't even think about it because you didn't take time to step back and say 'whoa, if we do this, this thing over here may happen.'
Something that we know has been a reaction to this is now armed officers being in some DPS schools. I know that you talked a little bit about this on Twitter. But what is your concern about that being a reaction just a few days after this happened?
Carroll: I think lawmakers have to avoid giving our communities a false sense of hope, that somehow that if we do this thing here - in this case, put a lot of law enforcement officers arm law enforcement officers back in the classroom back in school buildings - that automatically it's going to make a school safe. That's not necessarily true. The research that we've seen on this, and that you at 9NEWS has done in previous stories, shows that that's not necessarily true. And so, are we just providing the panacea? There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but just be honest about it. That's what we're doing where we want to make you feel safe right now, right here. So we're gonna do this.
There's been some discussion about SROs(school resource officers) and the impact that it could potentially have on minority communities and the diverse population - student population - that DPS has, do you have any concern about that?
Carroll: I think the school board when they voted to take SROs out the building -- although I'm not gonna comment on whether that was the right decision or wrong decision -- but the logic behind it was really very much based on what we know to be true, which is that Black and brown students in Denver Public Schools inordinately have interactions with police officers that end up with bad outcomes. We know that to be true. So it made sense to say, at least, this part made sense, so let's look at how we deploy school resource officers in our public schools and our high schools. Let's look at that, at least this, does this makes sense. And are we putting our Black and brown students, especially our young men, at higher risk of going into the school-to-prison pipeline. And I think that was a good discussion for the school board to have. But I also think on another hand, the school board needed to have a further discussion with parents and with students and with the community about the fears around not having officers in school because we know we live in an environment where school shootings are way too frequent...they happen way too often. And folks are afraid about that. That's legitimate. Fear is not a bad thing. Just fear when you act irrationally, on fear, that's when it becomes a bad thing. But people were fearful. There probably was a better way to approach this. So I still remain concerned about having SROs in schools, and having more guns in schools. I'm very concerned about that. But we have to take seriously that people really want to feel safe.