An Eastern Colorado school police officer at the center of a controversial sexting investigation admitted in court testimony that he took no notes and didn’t file reports about key events in a case that could send an administrator to prison for 12 years.
He also contradicted police department allegations that the administrator, high school principal Bradley Bass, had obstructed officers’ investigation.
The official, School Resource Officer Jared Barham, is crucial to the prosecution of Bass, who got a tip about students’ sexting, took photos of the phones where illicit images were found, and was then arrested by police for sexual exploitation of a child. No one has accused Bass, 32, of having bad intent. But he is accused of breaking a decades-old Colorado law that makes it illegal to possess images of child pornography, which includes sexually explicit images sent consensually, for any reason.
Barham’s role in the case highlights the lack of consistent training for school resource officers, and what obligations they have to respond to potentially urgent violations of school policy or law.
No agency oversees school resource officers in Colorado and there is no national requirement that they receive specialized training. Details of what the officers do and their working hours are often determined by agreements between school districts and police or sheriff’s departments. There is no official count of how many school resource officers there are nationwide.
“It’s just so unregulated,” said Aaron Kupchik, a University of Delaware professor whose research focuses on the policing of children in schools.
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In Colorado, at least one officer in a law enforcement department must take a 40-hour course offered by the National Association of School Resource Officers that covers topics like working with students with disabilities or adverse childhood experiences, social media and legal requirements, said James Englert, an Arapahoe County-based school resource officer who is a vice president of the national association.
All school resource officers are encouraged to take the same course within six months of starting their assignment working on campuses. But that’s not required.
Barham’s personnel file does not show that he had completed school resource officer training as of July 13. Emails reviewed by The Colorado Sun show Barham was scheduled to attend a National Association of School Resource Officers training in July, six months after he began working with the Brush School District.
Barham and Brush Police Chief Derek Bos declined to answer questions because officers with the department were subpoenaed to testify in a November hearing on the case. The hearing ran long and will be continued Dec. 9.
Sexting case stemmed from an April tip
The case dates back to April 11, when Barham received an email from a parent concerned about students sexting. He didn’t immediately respond; he was covering night shifts for a city police officer out on paternity leave at the time. The parent submitted an anonymous tip a few days later that went to Barham, the police dispatch line and the school district. Barham was the only officer working at the time and he didn’t share the tip with other officers, he said in the Nov. 21 court hearing.
Bass and his supervisor began investigating on April 14, the morning after the tip came in. Barham spoke to the parent who emailed the tip that night and then called Bass at 9:42 p.m. Bass didn’t answer.
Barham called Bass again on April 19, the first day back at school after a long Easter weekend. They spoke for nearly six minutes.
Barham did not document what was said in the call and does not remember if Bass provided the information he asked for. He previously told The Colorado Sun that he doesn’t remember if they set an expectation that additional information would be provided.
Asked in court why he didn’t take notes or document the interaction — something he’d been trained to do — Barham initially said he didn’t know.
“Do you think it’s because you didn’t think Mr. Bass would end up being the subject of an investigation?” Bass’ lawyer, Michael Faye, asked at the Nov. 21 hearing.
“I didn’t know what we were dealing with at that time,” Barham responded.
“So we have this six-minute phone call on the 19th, and as you sit here today, you have no memory of what took place during that phone call?” Bass’ lawyer asked a few minutes later.
“I don’t remember the specifics. No,” Barham said.
Barham followed up on the sexting tip when he returned to his regular schedule two weeks later. He asked Bass to share a report of the school’s investigation, which Bass did the next day.
Barham’s testimony about the information Bass provided during this time differs from previous Brush Police Department statements that said “school staff withheld pertinent information from the police department, hampering our investigation” when officers tried to work together.
“Now, at the end of the day, Mr. Bass did everything that you asked him to do, correct?” Faye asked at the hearing.
“What do you mean?” Barham said.
“Well, you asked him to provide a report to you, and he did, correct?”
“If you asked questions about this investigation, he answered them, correct?”
“He gave you information about who the parties were, correct?”
“He even preserved these photographs for law enforcement in the event that they were needed, correct?”
School resource officer programs date back to the 1950s
School resource officer programs date back to the 1950s but have become more common since the 1990s, accelerated by a federal grant program that became available around that time and school shootings including the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School.
The positions have become increasingly common since then. Nearly 75% of students ages 12 to 18 reported having a security guard or police officer assigned to their school in 2013, up from around 50% in 1999, according to a 2020 report.
Two decades ago, the question of whether to have a school resource officer might have been based on the availability of federal funding, said Samantha Viano, an education leadership professor at George Mason University who has researched school resource officers.
Now “there’s passion on both sides — where schools desperately or parents desperately want SROs and detractors desperately don’t want them,” Viano said. “It’s definitely become a more heightened debate.”
School resource officer programs can range from a police officer stationed at a school to a school district hiring its own police force. Their presence has courted controversy for disproportionately penalizing students of color and Kupchik said they tend to “raise the stakes” of student interactions by making it easier for a disciplinary problem to become a criminal one.
Studies have found mixed evidence on the officers’ effectiveness at reducing crime or affecting student behavior. Recently, the Uvalde school district’s police chief was criticized for failing to take action as a gunman killed 19 students and two adults in south Texas.
Most school resource officers receive training through the National Association of School Resource Officers, which advocates for resource officers to serve a triple role as counselor, educator and law enforcement officer. The officers ideally are law enforcement veterans and have at least three years of experience, Mo Canady, the association’s executive director, said in an interview at the association’s conference in July.
They “have to be the best officer their department can provide, because they’ve got to be in a position where they can be helping a student with a problem in the hallway, and then they hear gunfire and the next minute, they’ve got to be the best tactical officer,” he said. “It’s the most unique assignment in law enforcement, and it takes special people to do it.”
The association knows studies link the presence of school resource officers to increased penalties, particularly for students of color. But study results depend on which communities the researcher looks at, and whether they adhere to the association’s standards, Canady said. The association wants all school resource officers to receive specialized training, he said in an email, and the association’s course “includes a module designed to help officers understand implicit bias and avoid disproportionate penalties for students of color.”
The association uses the tagline “carefully selected, specifically trained, and properly equipped” to describe the school resource officers it advocates for.
Englert, the school resource officer with Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, also thinks all school resource officers should get training.
He was trained about a year after he started working in schools around 2005 and remembers thinking, “Well, I wish somebody had told me this information beforehand.”
“You’re learning this whole new language” — like what individualized education plans and 504 plans are — “that you’re not taught in the academy,” he said.
Barham not disciplined for error in sexting investigation
Barham worked as a paraprofessional in a Brighton school district and as a security officer at the Denver Broncos stadium before he became a patrol officer for the Brush Police Department in 2020, according to his personnel file. He became the school resource officer in January 2022 — a role he described as the liaison between district officials and the police department. He worked 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and tried to visit each district campus at least once a week, he said at the November hearing.
Barham said his investigation of the sexting case continued into May. He told parents that the goal was to erase the explicit images — a sentiment reiterated by other officers and official news releases.
But Barham never collected students’ phones to ensure the images were deleted and another police officer had to call parents back months later and explain the mistake.
At least one boy’s parents were upset, saying the police had made a mess of the case and dragged it out, according to body camera footage of the exchange.
Officer Barham should have took the phone at the very beginning or asked for the phone, that way all the information could be deleted. I mean, it’s just that simple. And it was just a mistake by him by not gathering that device at that time.
— Brush Police Department Sergeant David Hosier to one boy’s parents
Barham was not disciplined for the error, according to testimony at the November hearing.
“You never made any effort to make sure that these pictures were deleted from the boys’ cell phones. Is that correct?” Faye asked.
“Were you reprimanded about that by your supervisors?” Faye asked a few moments later.
“OK. Did you get any type of discipline for failing to try to get those images off the streets?”
“Did you have a conversation with your officers about how to do this better next time?” Faye asked.
Barham answered: “No.”
Since the case began, Brush School District has put their school resource officer program on pause and has requested that random officers be present and walk through school buildings.
Bos, the police chief, is leaving Brush to take a job as police chief in Eagle. His last day is expected to be Dec. 9, the day of the next hearing in Bass’ case.
Bass and the officer who said Barham made a mistake in the sexting investigation are expected to testify.
In the meantime, Colorado lawmakers recently required the Peace Officers Standards and Training board to create a model policy for selecting school resource officers. The policy is currently being drafted, said Lawrence Pacheco, spokesperson for the state’s Attorney General’s office. It will provide guidance, he said, but won’t be mandatory.