WATERLOO REGION — Public board trustee Scott Piatkowski will ask his colleagues for a review of the School Resource Officer program.
At Monday’s meeting, the Waterloo Region District School Board trustee will notify the board that he wants to bring forward a motion asking for a committee to be formed to review the police in schools program.
“We have received numerous emails on this subject from parents and alumni and from people in the community who are concerned about the issue,” Piatkowski said about the program.
Piatkowski said he wants a committee to look into how the program has evolved, among other things.
“It seems to be more of an enforcement thing than a friendly face with a badge,” he said. “I think that’s the concern of our friends in Black Lives Matter who have, along with others in the community, requested a review.”
The African, Caribbean, and Black Network of Waterloo Region said they don’t want officers in schools dealing with racialized youth. They say students have said they are not safe and that the program targets marginalized youth. Instead, nurses and social workers should be in schools, said the group.
“There is absolutely no place for a punitive surveillance policing presence in schools,” Ruth Cameron, a member of the network’s advisory committee, said in an interview. “It in no way supports the learning goals of marginalized, racialized, Black, Indigenous and poor students.”
Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo said there is no more time to waste in removing police from schools. It is no different than police in neighbourhoods who are “over-surveilling” marginalized people, she said.
“If policing hasn’t been working in communities and hurting Black, brown and Indigenous, then bringing that same system into the school will just amplify the hurt,” she said.
The School Resource Officer program has existed for about 20 years. Currently there are 10 officers in the program who are assigned to 240 secondary and elementary schools in the region. Officers are available to the public and Catholic school boards as well as private and independent schools, according to the Waterloo Regional Police’s 2019 annual report.
The goal of the program is “to develop positive relationships between youth and police, reduce youth victimization and partner with school staff to proactively address student, family and school challenges,” the report says.
Officers make regular visits to schools and bring awareness on topics such as online safety, substance abuse, bullying and sexual harassment.
These officers also investigate school-related incidents occurring on school grounds, such as reports of a suspicious person and altercations between students, and assist in situations such as lockdowns and suspension re-entry meetings, the report says.
Police Chief Bryan Larkin is willing for there to be a review of the program. He said police and schools have a good relationship and that officers are in the schools by invitation.
“We’ve never imposed ourselves on the schools,” he said.
Mark Egers, president of the Waterloo Regional Police Association, said the program was started as a way to connect to youth so they wouldn’t be afraid of police and to decrease the number of calls for service.
With officers in schools, they would be better able to deal with issues more efficiently, he said.
“They are a friendly face,” he said. “If you see an officer in the school, you would be more likely to report it (crime).”
Egers said he’s concerned with the program being seen by some as a way to target Black youth.
“By no means do we want to see anyone marginalized,” he said.
Piatkowski said he’s pleased to know the chief is open to a review of the program.
“Whatever happens, we don’t want to have a confrontational relationship with the police service,” he said.
Piatkowski’s motion will ask that a committee be formed to look at the history and origin of the program, its scope, gather data, host consultations with the community, and to examine whether to continue with the program.
The committee would include trustees, a student trustee, a superintendent, teachers, parents, a youth worker, principals or vice-principals, a human rights and equity adviser, and an administrator responsible for student discipline.
Piatkowski said he is optimistic his motion will move forward, adding five trustees have already offered to be co-signers to Monday’s notice of motion.
“I’m confident that this will be treated as priority and probably come back at our first meeting following Labour Day and then hopefully will pass and then we’ll get the review underway,” said Piatkowski.