Vancouver School Board ending police liaison program this June

Apr 27 2021, 9:40 am

The Vancouver School Board (VSB) will be cancelling its school liaison officer (SLO) program at the end of this June after a vote on Monday night.

The decision to remove uniformed police officers from schools in the district was made in an 8-1 vote and comes after a request by the VSB last year to review the SLO program.

According to the VSB, Monday night’s vote was the culmination of a process that included over 1,900 participants.

The Policy and Governance Committee received the engagement summary report on March 3, 2021, and trustees heard directly from delegations at three additional meetings.

During Monday’s meeting, the Board decided to discontinue the SLO program, effective end of June 2021, and to work with VPD and RCMP to do the following:

  • Establish communication protocols and points of contact in the event of school emergencies, lockdowns, critical incidents and VTRA (Violent Threat Risk Assessments).
  • Determine a process to establish protocols and training for emergency procedures in schools.
  • Determine a process to request VPD/RCMP information sessions for students (e.g., “Stranger Danger,” internet safety, gang prevention, the legal system, restorative justice).
  • Determine a referral process to the Gang Intervention Unit and establish communication protocols.

The VSB said it would also reach out to the City of Vancouver community groups that may provide assistance to fill the “gaps” identified by supporters of the SLO program, and that staff provide an estimate of the required budget for filling such gaps at the May 12 Finance Committee meeting for consideration of the Board prior to finalizing the 2021-22 budget.

The final motion also stated that:

  • The VSB contact the Ministries of Education and Children and Family Development to seek funding to hire counsellors to respond to mental wellness needs.
  • The VSB support the concept of community policing and urge the VPD/RCMP to develop more services at the community level, and to continue to support officers who are trained to work with children and youth with trauma-informed approaches.
  • The VSB engage with the VPD/RCMP, in collaboration with stakeholders and community representatives, centring the BIPoC community to develop trauma-informed approaches to working with children and youth with the aim of developing a new relationship.
  • The VBE sends a letter of appreciation to the VPD for supporting the VSB and its students for over 50 years.
  • The Vancouver Board of Education requests that the Vancouver Police Department continue to support programs offered to VSB students including, but not limited to:
    • Indigenous Cadet Program
    • ARC Program
    • VPD Cadets
    • GET REAL Program
    • Total Respect for Ourselves (TROO) Program
    • Here4Peers
    • VPD Musqueam Basketball Camp

“The Board will take the necessary steps to develop a new relationship with police services and discontinue the program at the end of this school year,” said Carmen Cho, Board Chair. “We are grateful for the commitment of the VPD and RCMP to our school communities.”

The Board said trustees were particularly interested in hearing from VSB students, as “the voices and perspectives of the students with lived experience with the SLO program and of students who identify as being part of the IBPoC communities was integral to this engagement.”

Now, said Cho, “there is much work to be done and the Board will work to make changes that can better meet the needs of students and families. It is important that all our students feel safe, secure and included in our schools.”

VPD responds to decision

VPD Deputy Chief Const. Fiona Wilson issued a statement in response to the VSB’s decision. It is in full below:

“The VPD is very disappointed about the political decision by Vancouver School Board trustees to remove School Liaison Officers from Vancouver schools.

For nearly fifty years, VPD’s SLOs have been an important resource for students in Vancouver. Our specially-trained officers have helped youth stay safe in schools, introduced extra programming for at-risk youth, and helped divert young people who come into conflict with the law from the criminal justice system to more appropriate resolutions.

Although recent surveys have shown that the vast majority of students in Vancouver support having SLOs in schools due to positive experiences with them, we know there is work to do with gaining the trust and confidence of some students. In recent months, the VPD strongly declared its desire to make changes to the SLO program, in collaboration with all stakeholders, to address the concerns that have been raised.

VPD will now assess next steps and decide when and how the officers currently dedicated to Vancouver’s schools will be redeployed to other areas of the VPD to address already existing resourcing gaps.

When officers are reassigned to other areas of the VPD, including full time roles for front-line officers in patrol and detectives for investigations, they will no longer develop and run programs for students like athletic and safety-focused initiatives. VPD programs for Vancouver youth that are run by VPD officers, independent of SLOs – like the VPD Cadets and New Kids program – will continue.

This decision leaves a big gap in relationship building between officers, students and staff and also decreases safety for youth and staff in schools. In addition, the decision impacts the direct interaction and mentorship police provide to keep youth safe – like keeping them away from gangs and educating them on staying safe online.

The VPD greatly values its existing relationships with students, teachers and staff in Vancouver’s schools and with administration officials with the Vancouver School District. The decision represents a big loss and will have huge safety implications now and in the future.”

Eric ZimmerEric Zimmer

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