Vancouver’s new school board has voted to re-instate the district’s controversial school liaison officer program.
It was a tight result Monday night, with five out of the nine trustees voting to revive the program, placing police officers in public schools.
The previous school board voted in April 2021 to end the half-century-old School Liaison Officer program, following an independent third-party review.
Reintroducing the program was a key plank in the ABC Vancouver party’s platform in the October election that saw them sweep to power.
Monday’s motion calls for Vancouver police to implement a “revised and reimagined School Liaison Officer (SLO) program, effective and operational no later than September 2023, which takes into consideration the thoughtful imputes and opportunities from the 2021 SLO engagement report” along with community feedback.
That review, conducted by Argyle Communications found a “spectrum of experiences” with the program, some positive and some negative.
Fifty-three per cent of students who responded said that the officers added a sense of safety to schools, but the numbers fell among Black and Indigenous students.
Just 15 per cent of Black students said they agreed with the statement, while 47 per cent of Indigenous students agreed.
Markiel Simpson, spokesperson for the BC Community Alliance, told Global News he’s had feedback from students and community advocates that the program is not wanted.
“That’s for racialized students such as the Black and Indigenous population, but it’s also for people with neurodivergencies and different sexual and gender orientations. All of their advocates and parents are saying they don’t want to see the SLO program re-introduced,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s been a huge outcry from people to reintroduce this program, but more of a political agenda.”
Leona Brown, an Indigenous mother of three, said the history of police involvement with residential schools and the child welfare system has left many Indigenous people distrustful of their presence.
“I myself have been invaded by police knocking on my doors at all hours of the night, and it creates trauma. You don’t want to be around police because you’re not trusting them,” she said.
“If we’re going to decolonize and reconcile, listen to the Indigenous people about what we can do better.”
The program, however, has strong support among some parents who say the district should be doing everything it can to ensure safe schools.
Parent Harbie Bahd, who has a child at East Vancouver’s Killarney Secondary, pointed to back-to-back incidents at the school last June as an example.
In one of those incidents, police said a teenager who didn’t go to the school arrived with the intent of assaulting a student. Bear spray was deployed in a school hallway.
“Living in a big city here there’s a lot more social issues, a lot more mental issues, a lot more violence and crime and parents are a lot busier too, so just having that extra support in the community of an SLO does take some fear off some parents and just provides that safety for kids too,” he said.
“I think anything we can do to support our kids and our youth and our schools to make their education a lot easier and for teachers to feel more safe is something we should look at.”
This week, B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender called for the end of liaison officers in B.C. schools, saying marginalized communities had raised significant concerns.
Vancouver police say 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.