Students at Peel Region high schools west of Toronto say they feel safer and less stressed when police officers are present in schools, according to a new study.
A three-year Carleton University analysis on the value of School Resource Officers (SROs) found that not only did students feel more secure in their surroundings, those surveyed also did better at school, missed fewer classes and were less afraid of being bullied or physically harmed.
“The data from this study provides strong support for the idea that the SRO program administered by Peel police meets its goals of increasing students’ perceptions of safety both within the school and in the school’s catchment area,” the study said.
The analysis released on Wednesday comes after the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) voted in favour of ending its program that placed police officers in some Toronto schools when a report found the program left some students feeling intimidated or uncomfortable.
The program, which was suspended at the end of August, saw police officers deployed at 45 TDSB high schools in an effort to improve safety and perceptions of police. It was implemented in 2008 after 15-year-old Jordan Manners was shot and killed at C. W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute the previous year.
LISTEN: Lead Researcher 0f the Peel School Resource Officer study Dr. Linda Duxbury talks with Global Newsradio 640 Toronto
The Carleton University study looked at five Peel high schools from diverse neighbourhoods between 2014 and 2017 and surveyed students, school administrators and police officers.
“During the interviews, a majority of students and school administrators stated that having an SRO assigned to their school makes administrators, teachers, and students feel safer when they are at school – ‘just by being there,'” the study said.
The authors of the study also point out the SRO program, which costs $9 million a year, is effective at reducing the amount of bullying taking place on school property and in the surrounding area.
“Six months after moving from a school without an SRO to a school with a full-time SRO, the number of students reporting that they were afraid of being bullied or physically harmed by other students or by gang members either at school or during the commute to and from school decreased significantly, as did the number of students reporting that they either avoided going to school and/or skipped classes because they had been bullied or feared being bullied,” the report said.
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The study said the SRO program also provided a deterrent to being bullied or harmed, offered faster response times when dealing with a situation or altercation, and can be a valuable form of de-escalation.
“Students, school administrators, and SROs all attributed their feelings of safety to their belief that the SRO understood the school and the students within the school and was able to defuse problematic situations or stop them before they escalate,” the report said.
Of the 1,275 Grade 9 students surveyed between 2015 and 2016, most felt the fear of being bullied decreased over time and they saw their mental health improve as well.
The report said officers spent 44 per cent of their time doing proactive policing and crime prevention, 34 per cent on reactive activities and calls for service, and 30 per cent on information gathering.
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The study also noted that despite the high cost of implementing the SRO program, the social return on investment (SROI) is als a significant benefit.
“SROI calculations determined that the social and economic return on the total investment of $660,289, (the cost of running the SRO program in the five schools in the study) yielded a total present value of $7,349,301,” the study said.
“This means that, for every dollar invested in the Peel SRO program, a minimum of $11.13 of social and economic value was created.”
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