In June 2019, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education passed a resolution regarding the use of handcuffs with students. The resolution banned the use of handcuffs with elementary students and instituted key measures to significantly decrease the use of handcuffs with middle and high school students.
Under District policy and state law, the use of handcuffs is permitted by trained officers in the DPS Department of Safety. However, handcuffs can only be used when there is an emergency — meaning a serious, probable, imminent threat of bodily injury to self or others. And only when less restrictive alternatives would be ineffective.
In April 2019, there was an incident at one of our schools where a Department of Safety officer very briefly utilized handcuffs in a situation involving an elementary student. The review of the incident found that it occurred without the knowledge or consent of the school principal or supervisory staff. The district appreciates the school principal and staff’s willingness to cooperate with the review process and is in full support of the school leadership. The review also determined that the decision of the Safety officer to use handcuffs was not consistent with the District’s policies.
According to Michael Eaton, the DPS Chief of Security, “We have an incredible Safety team working to support our 93,000 students. We are also committed to learning from our mistakes. This event triggered a massive review of our data regarding the use of handcuffs. With the knowledge we gained in this process, we have instituted dramatic changes in our training and practices.” Since this summer, the Safety team has received increased training including de-escalation strategies for crisis situations, working with students in a trauma-informed manner, and implicit bias.
The impact shows in the numbers. At this point last year, DPS Safety Officers had used handcuffs 23 times with DPS students. This year, as of today, the Department of Safety has responded to over 750 incidents at schools that involve student behavior. The Safety officers used handcuffs in three of those incidents. Two were high school students and one was a middle school student.
Every incident is reviewed by a Force Review Board, a cross-departmental team that analyzes whether there was an emergency and whether other less restrictive alternatives could have been used. The District is committed to continuous review and accountability in the work of keeping our students, staff, and community members safe.