Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2023
On Monday, March 13, 2023, the Greater Victoria School District 61 Trustees received a letter from the Greater Victoria Teacher’s Association (GVTA) regarding School Police Liaison Officers.
I am very concerned about the contents of this letter and would like to clarify the role of School Police Liaison Officers (SPLOs) and other police presence in schools, and to address some of the statements in this letter which are quite frankly, grossly inaccurate and do not reflect the local reality.
First, this letter implies that the SPLO Review Committee has recommended ending the SPLO program. I believe that review committee in fact put forward two options to consider: either to end the program or continue the program with changes. It is my understanding that the majority preference of committee members is in fact to keep the program and to implement positive changes, and that this recommendation is strongly supported in the results of a survey that the committee conducted, which I will also address later.
Second, I would like to clarify the current role that police have in schools, as this letter paints a picture of officers surveilling students and patrolling hallways looking to make arrests, which is simply not true.
The role of SPLOs is to build positive relationships and trust with students, which organically establishes mentorship and role models.
This is incredibly important in keeping our youth safe, in many ways. One important way is that it reduces the exploitation of youth, whether that is sexual exploitation – which we see increasing specifically around young men – sexual violence, or preventing recruitment of youth into gangs, which is a legitimate rising concern in Greater Victoria.
We know that when youth have a positive relationship with a trusted adult, they are more likely to disclose these activities, helping us take action to end criminal behavior aimed at youth.
Officers are hand-selected to be SPLOs based on their aptitude to build positive relationships with youth, ability to be role-models leading with care and compassion, and genuine concern about the well-being of students.
This program is critical to the safety of youth in our community.
This program also allows us to deal with worrisome behaviours that are not criminal, but are beyond the capacity of school teachers and counsellors to manage. That is the reality of what is happening in our local schools today.
Police are also in schools to deliver community safety, which consists of creating school lockdown procedures, and assisting with lockdown drills, much like the role the Fire Department plays in fire drills.
Of course, police are often invited into schools and classrooms for all ages at other times, and I can give you countless examples of the positive classroom experiences that take place with our Community Resource Officers and my own experiences in visiting schools.
This brings me to the third item I would like to address, which is that the generalized stereotypes, outdated perceptions and sweeping prejudice against police in this letter is unfounded and inaccurate to the reality of our community.
In fact, I find this extremely offensive.
One critical point in both this letter, and the BC Human Rights Commissioner’s letter that it references, is the acknowledged lack of Canadian research around the impact of SPLOs in schools. There is very little research that reflects the reality of our communities, our relationships and our justice system, and the recommendations in this letter are based on information that is inaccurate to our experiences.
In contrast, I am aware of a survey that the SPLO Review Committee has conducted locally and that I believe better reflects my understanding, and in fact the local reality of police relationships with youth, and the desire our community has for police to be in schools.
I understand that the survey had a significant level of participation from students, former students, teachers, parents, administrators, local First Nations and other community members, and I sincerely hope that the Trustees will carefully review and consider the SPLO Program Review Engagement Summary Report before making any decisions about this program.
In conclusion, from my own experience as a BIPOC parent and police officer who has engaged deeply with many other BIPOC communities, I can tell you that the contents of this letter do not reflect what these communities want for our youth. In fact, it is the opposite.
I hear the concerns expressed in this letter, and acknowledge that it is important to hear all voices in this discussion, but I do not believe that this is what our communities want, and I can tell you that removing police presence from schools in such a sweeping manner, as called for by the GVTA, is irresponsible and would negatively impact the safety and well-being of students.