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Why should police patrol schools?
The CPS wants to reform its school policing program, but won't consider eliminating it
On Nov. 30, Calgary’s top cops updated the Calgary Police Commission on its planned reforms to the Student Resource Officer (SRO) program that puts boots on the ground in schools.
Calgary Police Service (CPS) Deputy Chief Katie McLellan said there was “minimal engagement” from the public to support these reforms, despite the CPS’s repeatedly extending their deadline.
The CPS maintains the SRO program is a great success at diverting students from the criminal justice system and can only be improved upon. There are 38 officers participating in the SRO program, although only 23 of them are actually stationed in schools.
“This was about putting an anti-racist lens on the program,” CPS Chief Mark Neufeld explained.
But how do you put an anti-racist lens on a program that historically, at its core, has been used as a tool to advance white supremacy?
Commissioner Heather Campbell expressed frustration that the CPS isn’t taking into account the racist history of placing police in schools, which goes back to the ’70s.
“In certain cases, [this program] has caused trauma, and I would be remiss if I didn’t name the systemic racism, colonialism, and some of the fundamentally racist history of that program,” she said.
Commissioner Marilyn North Peigan said she’s “very uncomfortable with the narrow scope” of the CPS’s review.
“What we’re interested in seeing is a little bit of open-mindedness going into this project’s layout,” she said. “You could be picking up other ideas along the way and there is a possibility that when you bring those voices to the table that are missing that this program might not be wanted.”
But for Neufeld, SROs are part of a “continuum of service,” with officers intended to supplement the work of school staff.
Staff Sgt. Ralph Veckenstedt of the CPS Youth Education Unit, who made news earlier this year for giving “positive tickets” to kids for good behaviour, such as wearing helmets while biking and washing their hands properly, called SROs a “frontline patrol resource.”
“When an arrest needs to be made, our SROs lurk in the background and are as discrete as possible. They escort students out,” said Veckenstedt.
“And if you think about the typical arrest placing youth on the ground, or the use of handcuffs and force, this is an absolute last resource for our officers.”
Andrea Urquhart, a former Catholic school board administrator who now works in human resources for the CPS, said police officers at schools are necessary because there are some things teachers and social workers don’t know how to do, such as completing a Form 10, which allows authorities to institutionalize students suffering mental distress who may be a harm to themselves or others.
Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott, who taught at Western Canada High for five years before he was elected, said the police’s stated commitment to strengthen alternative response methods ought to be brought to bear on the SRO program.
This would necessitate an increase in mental health workers in schools, rather than police officers, Walcott suggested.
“There’s a question of resource distribution based on the outcomes we’re seeking,” he said. “If our outcome is to intervene with students at the lowest points in their lives in advance of criminality, and in advance of mental health distress and disorders, is a police officer trained enough to do that work?”
The CPS said it will spend the first half of 2022 consulting with BIPOC communities about reforming the program.
Edited by Ximena González
In others news …
Susan Hughson, the executive director of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), which investigates allegations of police misconduct, told the CBC yesterday that she was quitting the job she’s held since 2014.
From the Ceeb: In February, Hughson told the Edmonton Police Commission that the agency was at "a critical breaking point" as it struggled to investigate a growing backlog of files dating back as far as 2018.
The government cut ASIRT’s funding by 3% in 2019-2020 as part of a broader 6% cut to the Ministry of Justice.
The Alberta Energy Regulator said it will require oil and gas companies to cover $422 million next year for the cleanup and remediation of old wells, and $443 million in 2023, with no numbers specified for the following years.
These amounts, which are based on past industry spending, will help cleanup 4% of total environmental liabilities annually.
Sara Hastings-Simon of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy said this commitment is way too small for companies that were able to pay out dividends to their shareholders throughout the pandemic.
A 2006 Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) disciplinary hearing against Michael Gregory, who died by suicide earlier this year after he was charged with 17 sexual offences against six students, acknowledged he “mentally and physically abused his students.”
The ATA didn’t report Gregory to the police because its sole purview is to determine whether an employee is “fit for the classroom, [not] to determine the criminality of behaviours,” said spokesperson Jonathan Teghtmeyer.
Three of his victims have filed a $40-million class action lawsuit against Gregory’s estate and the Calgary Board of Education.
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