Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) trustees have voted to end their partnership with Hamilton police’s school liaison program in favour of searching for an alternative to fill the gap.
The decision comes after a five hour-plus board meeting on Monday night, answering calls from a number of advocates in the city to abolish the school resource officer (SRO) program.
At a board meeting on June 8, trustees voted to review the SRO program which was to deliver a report by October of 2020. However, the issue was put back on the agenda for reconsideration on Monday and nixed entirely by trustees in a vote.
“This motion to terminate is for black students. The motion is for indigenous students, Latino students, Muslim students. LGBTQ2+ students. Marginalized students and any student that has felt less than welcome at our schools because of a police presence,” said Cam Galindo trustee for Ward 9 and 10 during the vote.
Ward 7 trustee and vice-chair Dawn Danko suggested the program should be replaced with a new initiative that identifies “gaps for students” as well as for staff and community.
“By making this motion with the amended items, I believe that we are being careful and purposeful and are seeking to better understand how to continue to support our students through a new replacement program,” said Danko.
The SRO program supported six officers at 38 different secondary schools and five officers in a partnership with 158 city elementary schools — fully funded by the Hamilton police service (HPS).
The role of the officers was laid out in a 28-page equity action plan document presented to the board on Monday, which said the mandate of the program was to foster crime prevention against and committed by young people in addition to diverting the latter away from crime and antisocial behaviour.
Liaison officer duties in 2019 included presentations at elementary and secondary schools on subjects including personal safety, social media, human trafficking, internet safety, bullying, vaping and cyber-bullying.
Officers made 2,496 visits to Hamilton schools in 2019 which included 838 investigations and 455 presentations.
The upcoming review was supposed to be a community and student-driven action using a program task force consulting with a set of stakeholders.
HWDSB Kids Need Help – which represents a segment of students and community members concerned with the rights of students in Hamilton – hosted a sit-in at Main & Bay Streets while the board meeting was going on, Monday night.
Police closed off a portion of Main Street in front of city hall to about 100 protesters who marched and chanted in favour of a shutting down the SRO program and defunding Hamilton police.
Clint Twolan, president of the Hamilton Police Association, told Global News earlier in June the current narrative around the SRO program is “unfortunate” and really believes it’s valuable in regard to a potential drop in youth crime.
“Our school liaison officers are there to prevent crime, to provide bridges to the youth so that they have faith in police officers that are people that they can go to,” said Twolan.
“Removing them and demonizing police among our young people here in Hamilton, I think is a really bad idea.”
The debate about the SRO program comes amid a Hamilton police report which revealed a year over year decrease in youth crime of 16.8 percent between 2018 and 2019.
In a preface to the report on youth crime, Chief Eric Girt put the HPS school liaison officer at the top of a list initiatives providing a “positive and proactive role” with front-line patrol.
HWDSB Chair and trustee Alex Johnstone described the dialogue around the SRO program as “thoughtful.”
“I feel satisfied that trustees brought forward every viewpoint there is from across the city,” Johnstone told Global News, “This decision was heavily concentrated, heavily weighed.”
The SRO review aligned with an Equity Action Plan — also presented on Monday — which will seek feedback to create an anti-oppression framework potentially recognizing inequities in school systems and institutions.