Despite decline, District 51 ranks high in police referrals
Although the number is dropping, School District 51 had the state’s sixth-highest number of law enforcement referrals for school-related incidents for the fifth consecutive year in 2012-13.
Last year, the district had 361 law enforcement referrals, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
Despite District 51 having the state’s 12th-largest student population, just five school districts have surpassed District 51 in law enforcement referrals since the state began tracking referrals in 2000-01: Jefferson County Public Schools, Denver Public Schools, Cherry Creek School District, Adams-Arapahoe 28J, and Adams 12 Five Star Schools.
Law enforcement referrals for school districts encompass any time law enforcement is involved in a school-related incident, according to District 51 Safety and Transportation Director Tim Leon. That can include a parent calling law enforcement to report an incident, a teacher or administrator calling in law enforcement to handle a situation, or a school resource officer dealing with an incident on his own. Involvement can range from an arrest to mediation of a potential dispute.
Leon said the prevalence of referrals is not far off from other large districts. He said a combination of factors may contribute to the number, including teacher and staff training to recognize signs of drugs, regular in-school presentations by Crime Stoppers of Mesa County to encourage reporting criminal activity, and having school resource officers on site.
“I have to believe it’s more training and education,” he said.
Leon said the rate may drop based on decisions made by the new District 51 discipline committee, which is meeting now to fine-tune a definition for habitually disruptive students and potentially offer school staff more tools to handle student discipline in-house.
He also anticipates a drop in criminal incidents on school grounds with the introduction Monday of district security officers in four middle schools, although he said their presence may simply push some incidents off campus.
“Kids are not going to generally violate the law with officers present,” Leon said.
Despite District 51 always coming in fourth, fifth or sixth since referrals began, rates have fallen.
The district hit a peak of 644 in 2006-07 and decreased from 586 in 2010-11 to 444 in 2011-12 before reaching their lowest point last year.
District 51 is 12th in the state for rate of referrals in 2012-13 at 1.7 per 100 students, according to Padres y Jovenes Unidos’ Colorado 2012-13 School Discipline Report Card, but third in the state for largest reductions in referrals in 2012-13 compared to 2009-10, with a drop of 159 referrals.