After two-and-a-half years of consultation, the Greater Victoria school board unanimously voted to end the school police liaison officer program.
A committee looking at the issue first met in November 2020, and it included 21 members from a number of community, school and police organizations.
And now, the school board has given the final decision: to end the school police liaison officer (SPLO) program.
In discussing the matter, several school trustees said a concern they had with the program is that the district has no oversight of the officers.
“One of the challenges from an accountability perspective is that the district, we don’t direct the work of the police, so where there’s concern or complaints there is a lack of clarity and clear process of how that would be dealt with,” said Nicole Duncan, chair of the school board.
“In theory, an individual would have to go down possibly multiple complaints tracks, both complaining through the appropriate police complaints process and then simply complaining using the district process as well. It’s unclear what remedy, if any, the district could offer because again, our mandate is not to oversee the police.”
Trustee Rob Paynter said this might not be the end of any SPLO program in Greater Victoria schools, but that the current program would need major changes that warrants starting over rather than trying to fix it.
He noted that the school district has not set a guideline for the role of school liaison officers and the committee looking into the program had to seek out from each police department what role their officers play in schools.
“In a lot of respects, I think that the role is not well understood and aspects of the job may develop in basically an ad hoc fashion, without oversight, without proper tracking, without recourse to any kind of assessment or review. I think that it’s primarily a shortcoming that is within our district,” Paynter said.
“I recognize that the district has no mandate over police activity, but I would suggest that there are opportunities to work collaboratively.”
“My challenge right now is that you don’t see us having effective programs simply because we provide no guidance or definition of it, and for that reason, I believe that we need to essentially start from scratch.”
In addition to ending the SPLO program, the board unanimously voted to ask the provincial government to study the impact of SPLO programs in B.C. schools, noting there is an abundance of research in U.S. schools but less in Canadian schools, and to ask the province to ensure adequate funding for alternate programs to teach students about some of the lessons currently taught by SPLOs.
“Police are shouldering really a disproportionate responsibility in areas that they’re not equipped or not trained in order to to be providing services in,” Duncan said.
“My hope is that we can advocate to the province for adequate resources so that through the education system, we can properly resource and provide services with appropriately trained, certified and regulated professionals.”
Ahead of the board vote, Dean Duthie, chief of the Saanich Police Department, spoke in favour of keeping the SPLO program in place.
“Our School Liaison Officers primary focus is on relationships, it’s on inclusiveness, trust, and personal and community safety. Building off the foundation of relationships and trust, our officers devote their professional skills, abilities and training to assist, develop and strengthen social and emotional intelligence, helping them learn about decision making, safety, personal goal achievement,” Duthie said.
“These officers share very important safety information with students, families, teachers, administrators to bring awareness and a sense of learning, so good decisions can be made and harmful, actions can be prevented.”
Matt Christie, a Grade 3/4 teacher and social justice chair for the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, said ending the SPLO program will give the district the opportunity to bring in other professionals to educate students.
“It’s important to remember that ending SPLO programs would still allow for the use of police where appropriate such as criminal investigations and in lockdown situations. If we end these programs we are simply de-tasking police from things that they’re not properly equipped to do in the first place and ensure that staff and students who have experienced trauma from police feel safe in the schools,” Christie said.
“As educators we understand that the best response to a student in crisis is support care and connection to their community. We must hold to our fundamental understanding that children are in a state of development of coming to know the world and they are being shaped by their experiences at school.”
In 2018, the Victoria Police Department pulled its school liaison officers and redeployed them elsewhere due to budget constraints, however, Saanich Police, Oak Bay Police, and RCMP continued to staff officers in schools in their respective municipalities.
In November 2022, B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner called for schools to end SPLO programs, saying marginalized students feel less safe and can feel a sense of criminalization due to these programs.