What Denver mayoral candidates on the ballot say about safety in Denver Public Schools and youth violence

Parents and students called for more gun safety laws and security measures liked armed officers in schools in the aftermath of the East High School shooting.
8 min. read
A security guard watches over a parking lot at East High School after a shooting there on March 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Kawala Selli was among the crowd of parents waiting to be reunited with his child after a shooting at East High School left two school administrators injured.

When Mayor Michael Hancock, Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas and other city officials appeared in front of parents, a chorus of voices cried out, demanding answers and accountability. Selli was among the voices.

"They need to do better policing in the city, especially at the schools, the high schools, because the kids are getting hold of guns and the violence needs to stop," he said Wednesday while waiting to be reunited with his freshman daughter.

Selli later told Denverite his main concern in the upcoming mayoral race is gun safety, especially at schools. And so far, he's not convinced any candidate takes the matter as seriously as he does.

"I haven't heard or seen anything that is convincing for me to vote for them yet, because my number one issue is gun safety," Selli said.

In response to the shooting, the Denver Public Schools board approved a return of armed officers to campuses until the end of the year, setting off a new debate about officers in schools that DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero will have to navigate.

Though Denver's mayor does not have direct authority over DPS schools, public safety remains one of the top issues for city residents. And the city may play a role going forward if armed officers do return to school grounds permanently.

Here's a rundown of what mayoral candidates have said on youth violence, school safety and gun control, compiled from both public statements and responses given to Denverite reporters. The list is in the order they appear on the ballot.

Lisa Calderón

Calderón, who is again running for mayor after a failed campaign in 2019, called for "stronger restrictions on firearms" in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

In a tweet, Calderón said she is dedicated to "working with DPS and state and local lawmakers to curtail access to guns and support students' mental and emotional health by investing in prevention and intervention public health strategies."

Trinidad Rodriguez

Rodriguez, the son of a former Denver School Board member, has no mentions of schools in his public safety plan.

In a response submitted to Denverite, Rodriguez said building a relationship between the city and Denver Public Schools is key for his economic vision for the city. He said both the city and the school district must "prioritize the learning, safety and wellness of our youth."

Denver Public Schools teachers, faculty and students march into the Colorado State Capitol as they protest gun violence and push for new laws to address the problem. March 24, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Aurelio Martinez

Martinez, a political newcomer and a mainstay in Denver's boxing scene, said in his campaign platform that "Denver's youth and young adults have been forgotten and ignored," identifying youth violence and crime as a rising issue.

In his platform, Martinez wrote that the city must provide outlets, such as youth recreation, team sports, and employment opportunities, to help minors "succeed in life."

Thomas Wolf

Wolf's campaign materials don't mention proposed policies or focuses on youth violence and school safety.

Al Gardner

Gardner lists public safety as a top campaign issue. His focus is on filling Denver law enforcement vacancies. According to his website, he also wants to improve response times, though he does not list specific actions he would take on schools or youth violence.

Terrance Roberts

Roberts, a former gang member turned activist, told Denverite he plans to address the city's rising youth violence as mayor. In the aftermath of the shooting, he said he would support the return of school resource officers if DPS requested it.

"I still don't think frisking every student with police officers standing at the door and long lines with students waiting to get in the door is the answer. Nor is ticketing youth that involves court cases for fighting and delinquency acts," Roberts wrote after the shooting.

Denver cut its school resource officer program in 2020, in the midst of heavy protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd.

Renate Behrens

Behrens' campaign materials don't mention proposed policies or focuses on youth violence and school safety.

Chris Hansen

Hansen, a current state senator, has touted his work in the legislature to combat gun violence during his mayoral campaign. On his website, he cites worrying about the safety of his children as a reason for his support of gun control legislation.

Hansen identified crime as the biggest threat Denverites face and has called for more gun legislation.

In a statement sent out after the East High shooting, Hansen said he would work on a daily basis with DPS.

"As Mayor, Chris will create a School Safety Commission with a cabinet level School Safety Liaison that truly partners with DPS and ensures tight coordination. The Commission and Liaison will ensure that our municipal government is responsive to students', parents', teachers', and community members' safety concerns," Hansen's campaign said in a statement.

West High School students Lupe Murillo (left to right), Ariana Araujo, Laura Campataran and Shamari Key join students protesting gun violence at the Colorado State Capitol, a day after a shooting at East High School. March 23, 2023.

Mike Johnston

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Johnston called for Denver's school board to reverse its ban on school resource officers and give individual schools the opportunity to decide for themselves if they want armed officers back on-campus.

In Johnston's education plan, he said he'd expand gun control laws, like raising the age limits so high school seniors can't legally purchase weapons, to get guns out of student hands. In addition to expanded gun laws, Johnston called for preventative services, such as mental health and behavioral programs to "keep people out of trouble and out of the justice system."

James Walsh

Walsh's campaign materials don't mention proposed policies or focuses on youth violence and school safety.

Ean Thomas Tafoya 

The day after the shooting at East, Tafoya tweeted that "We must at levels of government seek gun control & invest in our communties (sic) to reduce violence & improve public health." His campaign lists providing mental health support, mentorship and job training for Denver youth as actions he would seek to take.

Andy Rougeot

Rougeot said he would pursue and prosecute illegal gun possession in his public safety plan.

Following the shooting, Rougeot called for school resource officers to return to schools. He said if the school board doesn't approve their return, he will "post a police officer outside every high school campus in a position as close to the school as legally allowed as mayor."

Leslie Herod

In Herod's public safety plan, she highlighted youth violence as one of the issues she wants to tackle. She said she wants to prevent youth violence by "creating collaborations between the city and business community to get kids summer jobs and internships, and double the number of after-school programs for kids.""At the same time, we need to prioritize restorative justice for youth to end the school to prison pipeline," Herod said.

Following the shooting, Herod condemned the fact that it was two school staff who were searching the suspected shooter for a weapon, declaring it is asking too much of educators.

Robert Treta

Treta has not taken an official position on youth violence and school safety. He called for the city to be more "proactive" in a tweet about the shooting.

Debbie Ortega

Ortega has touted her work to create the City-School Coordinating Committee, which addresses ongoing and emerging school safety issues in her official platform.

Following the shooting, Ortega indicated she supported student requests for school resource officers to return to campus, and called for city officials to convene immediately to address the issue.

Kelly Brough

In Brough's public safety plan, she does not take an official position on youth violence and school safety. She said she supports accessible community programming for "people who might be vulnerable to the influence of criminal activity, particularly youth and young adults."

Brough said immediate action needs to be taken following the East High shooting; she said, at the bare minimum, schools should be given the choice to have school resource officers on-campus.

Editor's note: This list does not include write-in candidates. This article has been updated with a statement from Chris Hansen's campaign. 

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