‘A positive presence’: ABC Vancouver reinstating police in schools program

Click to play video: 'New Vancouver school board majority pledges to being back liaison officers'
New Vancouver school board majority pledges to being back liaison officers
WATCH: Armed with its new majority on the Vancouver School Board, ABC Vancouver is pledging to bring back a program that placed police officers in schools that ended in June 2021. Rumina Daya reports – Oct 18, 2022

Police officers appear set to make a return to Vancouver schools in the coming months, following the sweeping victory of Ken Sim’s ABC in the recent civic elections.

ABC now holds the most votes on the Vancouver School Board, and with it the opportunity to reinstate the School Liaison Officer program, a key campaign pledge of Sim’s.

“We knocked on over 78,000 doors in Vancouver and we spoke to tens of thousands of residents, and a big concern from the majority of parents who had kids in the school system was they were concerned about safety,” Sim told Global News, Tuesday.

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Vancouver mayor-elect vows quick movement on public safety

“Can it be improved? Absolutely. But having a positive presence in the school is very helpful.”

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The Vancouver School Board voted to end the program in April 2021 after five decades, in the wake of debate and protest over civil rights following George Floyd‘s murder by a Minneapolis police officer.

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The board commissioned an independent review, which found that while 61 per cent of respondents said the officers contributed to a sense of safety, that opinion was not shared by many Black and Indigenous students.

Just 15 per cent of Black students agreed, while 47 per cent of Indigenous students agreed.

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Sim said his belief the program should return was built in part on personal experience. As a Vancouver high school student, he said one of his friends got involved with a gang and was forced to pick a fight with him.

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“He didn’t want to, but he had to because he was in a gang. And if it wasn’t for the School Liaison Officer program I would have been in a lot of trouble.”

It’s a perspective shared by retired Vancouver police officer and Odd Squad Productions organizer Doug Spencer.

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VSB’s school liaison program is coming to an end after months of debate

“Kids confide in the officers, they’ve done it for years, and the officers are allowed to get ahead of that situation, right, where gang recruiters are coming around and putting kids at risk.”

But Parker Johnson, a member of the Hogan’s Alley Society and member of the Vancouver police advisory committee for people of African descent, said there’s no evidence police officers in schools actually increase safety.

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“There are a number of harms — one is how else can resources be allocated to other priorities that need to be addressed, and the underfunding of schools? That’s just off the top,” he said.

“The other thing is how do we characterize safety? For example, my daughter who is a Black student at Van Tech, she felt more unsafe with police presence in schools.”

Vancouver police have previously said the program, which has run since 1972 and is fully funded by the VPD, plays a role in crime prevention and safety, and helps break down barriers between young people and police.

Global News requested interviews with both the Vancouver School Board and the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council, but both declined.

The new school board is set to be sworn in on Nov. 7.

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