I am fully convinced that using the $95,000.00 to provide other supports such as Social Workers or support the Boys and Girls Club to provide support for students. A half time Social Worker will do more to support students, especially students at risk, than a full time Police Officer.
That the SRO program breaks down barriers so students will view the police in a more positive light and hopefully for students of communities that have negative opinion of police will be willing to call police. 20 years ago when I first came to know the SRO program this rationale resonated with me. However over the years I came to question this rationale being the driving principal of this program. My experience is that for those students most likely to have negative opinions of police the SRO does not break down those barriers. The program has no clear procedure for doing this and it seems that just having a police officer seen at school and with some interaction with students such as at sport events the barriers will dissolve. For many students at risk participating in sports is not their thing.
Communities perception also form part of why I don't support the two dedicated SROs. I get comments from constituents that equates a police cruiser at the two schools to criminal activity. I don't get the same comments about police cruiser being at Canterbury HS. Having a police cruiser at the two schools for significant periods of time reinforces a perception to some in the community that these schools experience greater criminal activity. This is a false perception but insidious. For a student from a community that is over policed to then attend a school that is over policed; a police officer there for a good part of the school day, may seem to the student to be a negative and not the opportunity to make friends with the police. And highlighting these two schools for enhanced policing does perpetuate the perception of criminality with in certain communities.
The critique that the SRO program is used in a punitive manner I believe is valid. This use of police in an authoritative manner may actually reinforce, for those from over policed communities, a negative view of police. A Canadian study on a SRO program “Assigning Value to Peel Regional Police’s School Resource Officer Program Carleton University January 2018” speaks to this in the Chapter Five which focuses on school administration perception and use of the SRO program.
Page 102 “To summarize, the actions taken by the SRO to deal with the issues of concern in the school they were working in depended very much on the problem being addressed. They consulted with the school administrator and took concrete actions when necessary. They engaged in information-sharing activities with the school, followed-up on leads generated at the schools, and took concrete steps, such as running locker searches.
The data also identified the information sharing role of the SRO as a key activity that was important to school administrators. As police officers, SROs have access to a wide range of information about what is going on in the community at large. It would appear from these data that the SROs often act as an “information” conduit between the community and the school. School administrators may not know that the police are investigating one of their students who is known to be conducting illegal activities off-campus unless the SRO tells them. The SROs are in both “worlds” and can therefore investigate student transgressions more thoroughly than a school administrator might. When there are problems in schools, the SROs are well-positioned to investigate these problems and then assist in bringing about effective resolutions to these problems.”
From the Toronto District School Board SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER PROGRAM REVIEW 15 November 2017
“Student Focus Groups: At the Student Focus Group sessions, a majority of students indicated that they were very uncomfortable with having an SRO in their school. They noted that the presence of the SRO often made them feel intimidated, and frequently mentioned feeling that they were under continual surveillance and suspicion, leading many of them to stay away from school.
Students often spoke of the stigma associated with having an SRO assigned to their school, and the impact of this perception on both the school and their community as a whole. They were keenly aware of the fact that SROs were mostly deployed to schools with a high proportion of racialized students and within communities which they felt were already overly policed, making them feel that they were targets for discrimination.
They also felt strongly that SROs were potentially gathering personal information and data which could later be used against them or their friends. They noted that the presence of the SRO in the school was not welcoming.
A small number of students reported having a positive relationship with individual SROs, but expressed frustration that these officers often did not remain at the school for more than one year.”
These two reviews certainly gives credit to those students that think the SRO is monitoring them.
Recommendation given to the Board by Student Trustees in their 2019-20 Report to 'the Board on page 17. “The Re-Evaluation of the School Resource Officer Program (SRO)
Noting that there is not much Ottawa specific data that illustrates student perspectives on the SRO program, the OCDSB should pause the program and conduct a review of the program and the impact (both positive and negative) that it has on student populations. While no specific recommendations are presented currently, staff should consider board wide student consultations on the project similar to the consultation by the Toronto District School Board in 2016. This is of salient importance because this would allow staff and trustees to be aware of the relevant statistics before making a decision. Ultimately, such an action plan would allow the OCDSB to make a data-based decision that is most beneficial and appropriate for students. Any research which does take place must however also be critical of abstract data; stories and experiences which can carry truths are not always seen in numbers.”
The above points are the main reasons I support discontinuing the dedicated SROs at Ridgemont HS and Gloucester HS. I also support an evaluation of the SRO program in the OCDSB.
Chris Ellis OCDSB Zone 6 Trustee