Saanich Police say youth arrests double 2021/2022 school year

A Greater Victoria school is pictured in this file photo.

New data from Saanich Police shows that in the first four months of this school year, there have been nearly double the number of youth files recorded in the entire 2021/2022 school year.

From Sept. 1, 2023 to Jan. 24, 2024, Saanich Police says 26 youth were involved in 37 of the 222 files made during this timeframe. Comparatively, between Sept. 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023, youth made up 24 files out of a total of 497 files.

The year before, between Sept. 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022 – of the 574 total files Saanich Police oversaw 19 files were youth.

The youth statistics excludes diversion and unsolved crime.

“Anytime you see an increase in files involving youth, we would be concerned,” said Saanich Police Insp. Damian Kowalewich on Friday. “These files can range from minor incidents to major incidents.”

Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater, a developmental psychologist, has a hunch that the pandemic may be behind the spike in arrests.

“COVID isolated that group probably more than elementary school students,” said Leadbeater.

She says there are other factors as well – like the economy. Poverty is a big risk factor that can lead to youth violence and other behavioural issues. Another impact Leadbeater sees is the recent removal of police from Greater Victoria schools.

“Community-based policing has shown very positive effects,” said Leadbeater. “I’m a big fan”

The police liaison program was removed from SD61 in May of last year, driven by several community groups expressing their concern over the studied impact of police on racialized students in the United States.

“We don’t know if they do more good than harm and that’s why I’m asking for more research before we have these programs and these armed officers in our schools,” BC’s human rights commissioner told CHEK News.

Leadbeater agrees there needs to be more research, but thinks the studies SD61 relied on to make their decision might not apply in Canada.

“I’m hopeful that’s not applicable to community-based policing. We can’t generalize that to everywhere,” she said.

Leadbeater argues the relationships police are able to form with students allows for early involvement and early diversion that would likely lower Saanich’s file numbers.

“Having someone you know makes a difference,” said Leadbeater. “I would like to see them back.”

All three police departments which used to operate within SD61 (Saanich, Oak Bay and Victoria) have asked the school board to come back to the table to re-envision the police liaison program.

The school district continues to not answer CHEK News’ requests for comment.

RELATED: Parents hold rally outside SD61 offices to call for return of school liaison officers

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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