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March 23, 2023 10:00 AM UTC

East High School Shooting Shifts Mayoral Race

  • by: Colorado Pols

UPDATE: According to CBS4 Denver, the Denver School Board is discussing trying to place more armed police officers in schools:

Denver school board member Tay Anderson, who led the movement to remove Denver police officers from Denver Public Schools in 2020 is now calling for reinstating DPD officers in schools according to Mayor Michael Hancock’s Chief of Staff Alan Salazar.

Salazar confirmed to CBS New Colorado that Anderson called DPD Chief Ron Thomas Thursday morning, saying he was going to be putting forth a proposal to the Denver school board to place 160 Denver officers in 80 DPS schools.

Salazar pushed back on the numbers, however, saying the Denver Police Department doesn’t have the resources to divert 160 officers off the streets and into schools.


East High School

The race to become the next Mayor of Denver has been relatively quiet compared to past mayoral elections. That probably changes in the aftermath of Wednesday’s shooting at East High School in Denver that wounded two staff members and left the 17-year-old alleged shooter dead of an apparent suicide.

The race for Denver Mayor has been difficult to follow because of an obscenely-large 16 candidate field that makes it hard for voters to converge behind one or two frontrunners. Further complicating the campaign is the fact that the issue of homelessness has been widely embraced as the top subject for every candidate; when everyone is focusing on the same topic, it is hard for voters to tell the difference between contenders at a quick glance.

The shooting at East High School changes this calculation for voters in that it creates a clear delineation on the issue of armed school resource officers in Denver public schools.

Denver Schools Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero announced late Wednesday that armed school resource officers (SROs) would be returned to public high schools for the remainder of the school year, regardless of the position of the Denver School Board, which had removed them in the aftermath of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock supported the decision.

As Kyle Clark of 9News explained in a tweet on Wednesday:



Among the top tier candidates, four support the return of armed officers to Denver Public Schools: Kelly Brough, Chris Hansen, Mike Johnston, and Debbie Ortega. Those opposed to putting SROs in public schools include Lisa Calderón and Leslie Herod.

You can see how this is a problem for candidates such as Herod, who released the following word salad statement on Wednesday evening:

“We are failing our kids. We are failing our educators. And we are failing Denver families. What happened today at East High School is absolutely unacceptable and serves as a reminder that intentional action must accompany our thoughts and prayers.

“The East High community is making every effort to keep its students safe and supported. Like most of our schools, they are under-resourced to meet the diverse and growing needs and they lack the necessary coordinated supports from a city that is battling against the proliferation of guns. We must do better and we can. When we are asking educators to search students for weapons, we have clearly gotten school safety policies and practices wrong.

“Curbing youth violence is fundamental to the safety and wellness of our city. Our city’s leaders should be bringing our state’s top experts together to address the root causes of this crisis and to make sure that we never again put our educators on the front line to keep our schools safe.

“My heart is with the families of those affected by this tragedy and to the entire East High School community. I will not sit on my hands and wait for another tragedy to occur. Together, we will take action. I am with you.”

Mail ballots were first sent out to Denver voters last week, but early ballot return numbers have been remarkably low, indicating that voters have yet to make up their mind on the race for Mayor. With less than two weeks to go until Election Day on April 4, the East High School shooting puts candidates such as Calderón and Herod in an untenable position with no real time to explain the nuances of their opposition to SROs.

Political environments can change quickly — fairly or not — to the detriment of some and the benefit of others. In the race for Denver Mayor, it’s a good bet that we’re now looking at four candidates (Brough, Hansen, Johnston, and Ortega) battling for two spots in the June 6 runoff election.


24 thoughts on “East High School Shooting Shifts Mayoral Race

  1. Semi-serious rhetorical questions, I swear not directed at Herod.

    Every time something like East happens, I see folks write something like "we need to address the root causes." Sure, but how, and can it be done before the end of history? Are not root causes different for different people in different situations? Are we somehow going to eliminate (or more reasonably, seriously curtail) broken homes, poverty, hopelessness, personal conflict, or the ever-present exposures to news of world and national violence?

    I opined yesterday that "mental health is the problem" is a red herring to distract from the need for gun legislation. In fairness, I'm wondering if "address the root causes" is an equivalent red herring, to distract from the need for policing.

    But if someone has tangible ideas on how to effectively address root causes, I'm all ears.

    1. The "we need to address the root cause" mantra is up there with "thoughts and prayers." It gives people something to say which will not anything that is actionable.

    2. It’s every minor politician’s first duty during times of crises — offering bromides and simple solutions to massive and intractable problems.

      That’s the least they can do.

    3. So far, there's a policy debate going on based on what has happened in a very few instances, all centered on the problems of firearms. 

      As a reminder, the decision LAST round was fueled by social justice concerns that included bad anecdotes and reporting on an overall trend, according to Denverite's  Kyle Harris and Desiree Mathurin.

      In 2019, Denver Public Schools safety officials handcuffed a seven-year-old at a Green Valley Ranch elementary school. Police pointed a gun at a teacher during a search at Rise Up Community School in 2018, prompting students to stop attending class as they didn’t feel safe….

      Between 2014 and 2019, in-school officers had ticketed and arrested more than 4,500 students. Of those, 80% were Black and Latino, according to data from Padres y Jovenes, a group that spent decades trying to get cops out of schools and reform disciplinary practices.

      Current counts:

      52.5%  Hispanic/Latino

      25.7%  White

      13.5%  Black or African American

       4.0%  Two or more races

       3.2%  Asian or Asian Pacific Islander

      So "only" a 14% bulge in enforcement over population.

  2. Agree with both statements above. I think Australia did a good job of addressing the actual "root cause" and, well, shocker, its working. From…

    In 1996, Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement after a mass shooting in Tasmania in April of that year. In that incident, a 28-year-old man, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, shot and killed 35 people, and injured 18 others, in what was known as the Port Arthur Massacre.

    Under the 1996 law, Australia banned certain semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns, and imposed stricter licensing and registration requirements. It also instituted a mandatory buyback program for firearms banned by the 1996 law.

    During the buyback program, Australians sold 640,000 prohibited firearms to the government, and voluntarily surrendered about 60,000 non-prohibited firearms. In all, more than 700,000 weapons were surrendered, according to a Library of Congress report on Australian gun policy. One study says that the program reduced the number of guns in private hands by 20 percent.

    In 2002, Australia further tightened gun laws, restricting the caliber, barrel length and capacity for sport shooting handguns.

    Since 1996, the number and rate of homicides — defined as murder and manslaughter — has fallen. Below is the chart that appeared in our 2009 Ask FactCheck article, showing a 20 percent decline in homicides from 1996 to 2007.



  3. For goodness sakes, SROs are not the answer…It is my understanding that two armed officers were on site when this happened. They had been there since the soccer student was shot in his car.

    My questions:
    1. When SROs were removed, was there any alternative created? What happened to that budget line item? (More psychologists? After school programs??))
    2. Coming out of Covid, what plans, if any, were put in place to support students? Districtwide and at the school level.
    3. How long had this student been under his plan and was he already being patted down daily? If he knew he would be patted down, why did he take a gun to school that particular day?
    4. Who decided that administrators were the best choice to execute the plan–especially since the student had been found with a “ghost gun”?
    5. How widely was the student’s plan communicated…who all knew?

    Remember waaaaay back when he first ran, Hancock branded himself as the “education” mayor? Like all of his other “big ideas,” nothing changed after all his talk. Unless there are some real hard conversations., plans and $$$$ to execute them, we are nowhere.

    1. I'm not going to take the time to go through the entire DPS budget, but they had 169 psychologists and 151 social workers on staff, according to the 2022-23 draft budget (not sure if that was what was approved). This was up from 101 psychologists and 87 social workers in 2015-16.

      I appreciate your point #3, TDO. I'm going on limited samples, but it just seems too frequent to me that people know a person is a serious threat before they finally commit their act of violence. That's why we have red flag laws in Colorado and many other states.

      1. The increase in psychologists and social workers is an indirect result of the elimination in SRO's in DPS, but I don't think that the reduction in funding by eliminating SRO's  was reallocated there.  There were 4-5 new mental health and restorative justice positions created at the district level, but the number Campus Safety Officers was not increased.  In fact, it looks like DPS reduced the number of CSO's from (82) FY21 to  (78) FY22.

        I'm thinking that the DPS Board had such an extreme position on any kind of law enforcement presence that they were willing to let the safety environment deteriorate in the name of restorative justice in spite of the increases in incidents there were seeing as it was a calculated risk.  There's likely a course correction followed by a political reckoning coming.

    2. Two Dog, Channel 9 News noted that there was at least one officer or guard in the school. But the guard was not armed. The student was being patted down daiy as part of some sort of plan.

    3. There are SROs, and SROs. Years ago, at Montbello high school, SRO Henry was one of the finest human beings I ever met. He mentored kids,  he walked that fine line between justice and safety for the school population-  he was a role model for adults as well as kids.

      And then there are prople like this S Carolina SRO and this NY SRO slamming an 11 year old girl to the ground. 
      In my view, schools need to be selective about SROs and generously fund the alternatives to police intervention- psychologists, counselors, restorative justice programming, peer / youth courts. 

  4. I have questions.

    1. Where does a 17 year old get a gun?

    2. Why did this student feel he needed to bring a gun to school?

    3. If he was already on admin’s “radar” and subjected to a daily pat down, then what other steps were being taken to help this student? Was there any concern over his home life? Was there any type of mental health intervention? Should he have even been in that type of school setting? Would he have benefitted from some sort of residential school setting and treatment?

    This student was failed by lots of adults and in the end, two administrators were injured, the student committed suicide and an entire high school was terrorized. Seems like preventing this would have been a better plan. I don’t think that SRO’s in the school would have stopped this unless they were doing the pat downs.

    Can we instead look at actual mental health interventions that would have put this student on a path to healing instead of the path of destruction? Seems like that would be the better option for everyone.

    As to the mayor’s race, looks like this will be a talking point for candidates that will lead to nowhere in the end. Sigh.

    1. 1. Where does a 17 year old get a gun?

      Pretty much anywhere. He does live in the US of A.

      2. Why did this student feel he needed to bring a gun to school?

      Because the gun nuts tell him that to prevent becoming a victim of gun violence, it is important to be carrying yourself. And as the revised version of the good book says, "Do unto others before they get the chance to do unto you."

  5. Where, by the way, did this "resource officer" stuff come from? Is that supposed to be a less threatening name? They're cops. Call them that. We had "security guards" when I was in high school, way back when. They weren't armed; just big, burly civilians, but no one pretended they weren't there to deal with troublemakers.


    1. My guess is the name SRO was devised sort of euphemistically, to sound "not like they are cops," but yes, they are sworn law enforcement officers. They operate in school settings, so their day-to-day job responsibilities are tailored to that environment.

      And Denver School Board just voted to put DPD officers back in schools, at least through the end of the year.

  6. I'd like someone to take the "perfect" armed adult in a school scenario and make it into a realistic short film. Let's go with an SRO for this example, since that's what we're talking about here.

    Scene 1: Armed SRO is welcoming students as they come in. SRO is nice. Students seem to like the SRO. Everything is fine.

    Scene 2: Maybe a montage of SRO dealing with one student who is having worse and worse issues. SRO tries to be caring but authoritative and feels for the student with issues. The student gets angrier as this goes on.

    Scene 3: Student comes into the school with a gun ready to shoot. SRO uses his excellent marksmanship and training to see the threat and kill the student.

    Scene 4: SRO is hailed as a hero of their community. Everyone is happy again. No one is traumatized at all.

      1. None of the stories say if the officer knew the shooter. That's the scenario I imagine to be more common if we had more adults in schools with guns.

        From what I can tell, Officer Dallas only knew Matt Milby as "The Shooter" or "The Threat" or "The Suspect" and not as "that troubled kid named Matt that I tried to help"

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