By Dillon Thomas

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – Days after a Poudre School District survey of parents, students and staff showed an overwhelming majority wanted school resource officers in schools, a committee commissioned by the school board officially recommended the district eliminate SROs from all district buildings. The recommendation, made by a committee of 15, appeared to contradict the desires of most of the thousands the district surveyed.

The “Community Advisory Committee,” known as the CAC, was created in 2020 after the PSD school board asked for a comprehensive review of the district’s contract and placements of SROs. The board voted 6-to-1 to keep officers in the schools but asked the CAC to review the SROs practices and return their findings.

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After months of research and discussion, a significant majority of the CAC agreed that SROs should be replaced by officers who are designated to patrol the immediate community around each building without stepping foot inside, aside from unique circumstances and emergencies.

“The role of law enforcement can be fully implemented without the SROs present in school, to reduce the likelihood of traumatic experiences for students. The SROs model needs to shift to a response model,” Johanna Ulloa Girón, a representative for the CAC, told the school board.

The CAC was made up of people of different races, ages and backgrounds from across Larimer County. While the majority of the CAC advocated for SROs to be removed from buildings, they did provide other suggestions on how the police can better interact with students.

However, in a survey of students, parents and staff completed in 2021, an overwhelming majority of respondents expressed their content with the way the SRO program is currently operating. Many parents took to social media saying they were confused how the CAC’s results contrasted that of the community directly involved with PSD.

The morning after the CAC presented their findings, students at Lincoln Middle School in northern Fort Collins contacted their SRO reporting their peer allegedly had a gun and was making threats to others.

(credit: CBS)

The SRO assigned to the campus quickly made contact with the student, confiscated what was later determined to be a BB gun, and cited the child for interference with staff, faculty or students of an educational institution, a class 3 misdemeanor. Students were able to return safely to their classrooms to complete the school day.

John Feyen, Assistance Chief of Police in Fort Collins, said the relationship the SRO had with those inside the school made the incident end peacefully and quickly.

“We are one part of the team that helped address safety issues expressed by other students,” Feyen told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas.

Multiple parents of PSD students contacted CBS4, and took to social media, saying they felt the incident at Lincoln Middle was a great example of why SROs were needed inside PSD buildings.

Feyen, who oversees the SRO program in Fort Collins, said he welcomed the findings of the CAC’s research as a great starting point on how FCPS can better themselves. Though he disagreed with the removal of SROs from buildings, he said many suggestions made could be, and have been, implemented.

“It helps us define what our roles are in the schools,” Feyen said. “I appreciate those conversations because they are only going to make us better in what we do.”

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(credit: CBS)

Feyen said the threat of a mass shooting, or other significant threat, taking place at a school is very low. While he said the presence of an SRO helps prevent those situations, he believed the SROs’ presence in schools is more important when it comes to building relationships with those in schools.

“It’s about making sure the students are safe, and the relationships help us keep the students safe in that world,” Feyen said.

Among other things unrelated to the physical presence of SROs in buildings, the board suggested that FCPS remove themselves from some situations like small drug offenses on school grounds. Feyen said the department has agreed to do so, and already implemented that policy.

The Poudre School District board hasn’t made any final decisions, keeping SROs in schools for the time being. They are scheduled to reconvene to further discuss the CAC’s findings on May 11.

CBS4 reached out to the district for comment on this report, but requests were denied. Requests for Ulloa Girón of the CAC to interview were not returned as of the posting of this article.

(credit: CBS)

CBS4 also reached out to each member of the school board, requesting on-camera interviews, which were either denied or not responded to.

In a written statement to CBS4, PSD District D Director Christophe Febvre said the following on the matter:

“The Poudre School District Board of Education has made no decision regarding the School Resource Officer Program in the district or the contracts that PSD currently has with the three law enforcement agencies that employ the district’s 14 SROs. In the late spring of 2020, based on some questions being asked in the community about discipline and policing in our schools, the Board decided to form the Community Advisory Council (CAC) and charged them to study the SRO program and develop recommendations to share with the board. The CAC held weekly meetings throughout this past fall and winter to learn, discuss, and attempt to develop consensus recommendations for the board. As part of their mission, the CAC also developed a survey that gave voice to over 11,000 members of the PSD community members – a significant and broad cross-section of families, staff, and students. For the April 27 Board meeting, the CAC developed a report and shared their recommendations with the Board. The Board is thankful for the incredible dedication and work provided by these dedicated and engaged volunteers. The next step in the process will take place at the May 11 school board meeting where the Board will have the opportunity to discuss the CAC report and any other materials that have been considered throughout the year.”

In summary, PSD posted the following:

Majority opinion: Eleven CAC members believe the role of law enforcement, agreed to in the final CAC report, can be implemented without SROs’ presence in schools. They recommend that PSD shift to a response model where law enforcement officers are not embedded on campuses. One option for exploration is for officers to fulfill the roles outlined in the CAC report but act more as liaisons to schools; they would be assigned to patrol areas adjacent to their designated schools to reduce response time.

Dissenting opinion: Four CAC members felt strongly that SROs should remain embedded in schools, citing response time in the case of threats of violence and the hope that SRO presence deters criminal or violent behavior. They felt that new Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs, for SROs is a step in the right direction and that continued data gathering to inform new practices is essential. They agree the disproportionality of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) students being referred to law enforcement is a large concern.

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Watch the full presentation the CAC made to the school board, or see the reasoning behind the CAC’s findings.

Dillon Thomas