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Cortez Police Chief Vernon Knuckles Wants Community Discussion On Role Of School Resource Officers

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Cortez Police Department
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Vernon Knuckles swearing-in as Cortez police chief last week.

Early last week, Vernon Knuckles was sworn in as the new chief of the Cortez Police Department.

Knuckles comes from the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office where he worked for nine years, most recently as undersheriff. His first few days as chief have been spent moving into his new office and reacquainting himself with a department he used to work for from 1996 to 2005.

But he is also stepping into this role at a time when the function of police in a community is in the national spotlight. 

In the weeks after the killing of George Floyd, the Colorado state legislature passed a bipartisan police reform bill that bans chokeholds and requires peer intervention when inappropriate force is used, among other changes.

In Cortez, about 120 people gathered Saturday at Parque de Vida to support Black Lives Matter - and call for the removal of the school resource officers from the Montezuma-Cortez School District. Organizer Caro Gomez told KSJD some students don’t feel safe with the presence of a school resource officer and want the funding reallocated elsewhere.

“I see a police officer and my stomach drops, because I immediately feel like I’m in danger, and like I’ve done something wrong,” said Gomez, a recent Montezuma-Cortez High School graduate. “I’m just a Mexican kid who just walked into class. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Knuckles defends the use of a school resource officer and echoes the belief of his predecessor, Chief Roy Lane, by saying an officer is necessary for an emergency response whenever you have a large amount of the community’s youth in one area.

But he added that it needs to be addressed why officers do not make students feel safe, a conversation he said should involve the district and community members.

“The goal of the school resource officer … is to make the school feel safer,” Knuckles said. “So, I think a conversation would need to be had with the school administration and the community to identify is that, in fact, not happening.”

Hear KSJD’s full interview with Knuckles below.

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