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School Resource Officers Can Be A Positive Influence On Kids

School resource officers can be a positive influence on kids

Tennyson averaged 45-50 police contacts per month when I joined in December 2016. Excessive, but sadly not uncommon for residential programs with day treatment education where children wrestle with the impact of trauma.

Trauma often manifests itself in behaviors that exceed staff’s capacity despite the considerable de-escalation skills residential facilities like Tennyson exhibit.

Nevertheless, the level of police involvement was unhealthy for all.  A negative dynamic with law enforcement is deeply embedded as many children who come to Tennyson were removed from their homes by police officers.

Some spent time in the juvenile justice system.  Distrust of the police runs deep for child welfare involved children and families. Layer on this the disproportional representation of children of color in Colorado’s child welfare system as well as nationally, and one can see how efforts to change relations with police are needed as part of children’s healing journeys.

To address this challenge, we embarked on a new partnership with neighbors, city and state child welfare officials and Denver Police Department District 1 to radically reduce police contacts and rewrite unhealthy dynamics between children and police.

Before coronavirus ravaged society, Tennyson had reduced police contacts to under three per month at an annual cost savings of close to $90,000 for Colorado taxpayers.

This was done through changes in our school, through revised de-escalation work and through two keys changes with police that yielded important results.

First, we set aside Thursday nights for basketball with District 1 police officers.  Officers would come to Tennyson, change out of their uniforms and play basketball with children. Laughter filled the gym, and children and officers learned each other’s names.

The impact was profound. We witnessed police officers and children challenge and reconsider their negative attitudes toward each other. Officers’ hearts opened as they learned through sport the depths of children’s trauma while simultaneously seeing their strengths.

This engagement changed their perception of Tennyson kids from “problem children” to “children who have overcome so much.”

Likewise, kids started to smile with officers and considered some “cool.” When police came to campus for meetings many kids, would run up and say hello, and newer kids whose distrust of police was significant were ushered into new relationships through the guidance of children who had been at Tennyson longer.

The second change we made to reduce police contacts was hiring an SRO.

We partnered with District 1’s Lt. Daryl Miller who, for two years, built the SRO job description to address concerns outlined above while uniquely tailoring it to Tennyson’s needs and population.

Lt. Miller hand-selected the perfect SRO fit for us: she is compassionate, extremely well trained in safety and emotional regulation and a former foster kid herself.

The SRO job description explicitly stated that they could never put hands on a child, and our SRO never did. Children were drawn to her and her ability to non-violently support staff as they de-escalated students cannot be understated.

The SRO job description explicitly stated that they could never put hands on a child, and our SRO never did. Children were drawn to her and her ability to non-violently support staff as they de-escalated students cannot be understated.

If police were needed, she was able to guide her colleagues into Tennyson with full knowledge of the situation and engage in a much healthier, more trauma-informed way.

Our SRO’s personal healing journey as a former foster child inspired her service and actions in ways you cannot teach, and in ways that connected with the children at Tennyson.

Read the entire article on the Colorado Sun’s website.

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