Much to the chagrin of VicPD, the Greater Victoria School District Board of Education (SD61) passed a motion to end the School Police Officer Liaison (SPOL) program in all their schools on June 1st.
SD61 have been in talks with students, teachers, administration as well as local police detachments to determine if the SPOL program was in the best interest of its students or not and ultimately decided it is no longer needed.
“Police are being asked to fill in gaps in student support and to take on roles that should be filled by individuals with specialized expertise, such as youth and family counsellors and social workers,” said Nicole Duncan, Education Chair for SD61.
“Further funding is required for this specialized support, and the Board has committed to advocating for this funding from the provincial government,” she added.
Duncan said there have been positive interactions that came about because of the program, but many students and teachers feel unsafe with a police presence constantly looming in a place that is supposed to feel safe.
“The decision to end the program speaks to the Board’s commitment to provide trauma-informed support and inclusive spaces for all students,” Duncan said.
Following the decision, the Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Color (SNIWWOC) released a message of commendation, which highlighted all the reasons BIPOC students would benefit from the SPOL program ending.
SNIWWOC have been working since 2020 to push SD61 to make the decision that was made this week and even spoke at a board meeting on May 1st to bring up the following issues:
- Many BIPOC students graduate highschool with first and second hand trauma experiences at the hands of police
- The 2021 Greater Victoria Local Immigration Partnership Network Survey revealed that 30% of BIPOC Victorians have experienced racism from local police
- A police officer isn’t bound by the same physical contact and restraint policies that other school staff are
- VicPD reports from 2016 to 2021 show them disproportionately policing BIPOC youth — Around 19% of people VicPD labeled as “youth suspects” were Indigenous when they comprise only 5% of Victoria’s population
- A disproportionate amount of incident reports have stemmed from Esquimalt High School, a school with a largely BIPOC student body
- Canada’s House of Commons determined that systemic racism is present in all police organizations and work must be put in across the country to make positive changes in this regard
Although the program will be coming to a close, police will still have access to SD61 schools to aid with lockdown procedures, emergencies and relevant investigations and the district has acknowledged that police serve an important role to the community — just not as school liaisons.
VicPD provided Victoria Buzz with the following statement on the decision:
“VicPD is disappointed in this decision. We recognize and support all voices and experiences being heard in this decision, but feel that cancelling the School Liaison Officer (SLO) Program is not the right solution to addressing the concerns that were raised in this process.”
“We are committed to building relationships with youth and will continue the work we do with schools when we are invited into the classroom, as we so often are, and the programs that allow us to connect in positive ways with the young people in our communities.”
The decision will also impact SPOLs from Saanich Police, Oak Bay Police and West Shore RCMP.