Reviewing School Resource Officer programs

Renée Francoeur
October 10, 2017
By
Every October issue of Blue Line includes an Education & Training Directory, so naturally I found my ears perking to any news smacking of the hallowed halls of knowledge. With school back in session, I noticed one particular story was receiving a lot of attention: officers in schools.

My inbox filled with Google Alerts during the last week of August when the Toronto District School Board voted to axe the School Resource Officers (SRO) program pending its own review. Canadian Press reported this was due to “racial and anti-immigrant” bias concerns. The move came shortly after the Toronto Police Services Board approved a review and evaluation of the program, as recommended in a report from Chief Mark Saunders, to be carried out independently by Ryerson University.

According to the police board’s agenda from that meeting, the report states, “The objective of this review is to assess the current implementation and environment of the SRO program, taking into consideration the variety of viewpoints of and experiences with the program, using the principles of inclusivity, equity and safety.”

When examining the objectives of both reviews, one can honestly view them as positive and necessary steps — complimentary to Toronto Police’s goal of modernization. However, I am sure some would have preferred to see the school board wait until these reviews were complete to make any decisions, like Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters.

Typically, SROs are stationed in various schools throughout the country, while many other schools boast liaison officers in some capacity. I did not have one in my small town high school, which was under the OPP’s jurisdiction, but I wonder how having such a figure might have altered the atmosphere of those days when the dogs were brought in to search the lockers.

In this month’s Q&A (see pages 10-11), Chief Marlo Pritchard of the Weyburn Police Service in Saskatchewan told Blue Line how it was Glen Kosar, the first SRO at the Regina Police Service, whose influence served as a catalyst for his career choice. So a SRO program really can make a difference.

That doesn’t mean these types of initiatives don’t need regular reviews and adjustments to better serve the constantly evolving student body’s needs. Nor does it mean that there aren’t real issues with how the programs have been rolled out at certain high schools and how they may be failing certain groups. As one school board trustee put it, while armed police in schools can make some students feel safer, they can also make others feel intimidated. We need to address this, for sure, but I’m not sure an outright removal of SROs is the answer.

In fact, I think it could create a wider gap between law enforcement and marginalized communities. There becomes less accessibility and exposure to personable law enforcement faces for youth in a safe, neutral setting.

As I write this, an 18-year-old male is recovering in hospital after being stabbed during a fight near G.L. Roberts Secondary School in Oshawa, Ont. It is a fact of life that violence happens in and around schoolyards, but I believe having some kind of law enforcement present from time to time is part of improving public safety and improving relationships between police and students, especially students who perhaps have had negative connotations and/or experiences with the field.

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