THIS WEEK, the Vancouver and New Westminster school boards both voted to end police liaison programs. Rather than being seen as a positive presence in schools, the school boards have decided having police present in schools negatively affects students.
At the New Westminster School Board, concerns about the well-being and mental health of students, especially of racialized students, were raised.
Across Canada, school districts are grappling with the role of police in their schools. In 2017, Toronto pulled police from their schools. Last year, Edmonton pulled their school resource officers, as did Peel Region in Ontario. Other cities, such as Ottawa, are considering removing police liaison officers.
Now, it’s time to have the discussion at the Kamloops-Thompson School District of the role of cops in schools here too.
There are varying roles for police. Responding to a bomb threat or gun incident, with appropriate actions is reactive. Making plans between police and the school district before incidents happen is proactive. Planning for and addressing threats to students and the school community is an appropriate role for police to have with school districts.
But police are not the best resource for every incident. More and more, drug use is seen as a health issue, rather than a criminal issue. Hundreds of people dying from opioid overdoses is a health care crisis.
Rather than having police talking to children and youth about drug use, having health providers speaking to students makes more sense. Rather than funding more police in schools, more funding for school nurses, psychiatrists and other health providers could help students learn more about drugs, their risks, and what help is available.
Police are often seen as a means to reduce or eradicate drug trafficking in schools. However, addressing drug use goes well beyond the scope of policing. BC’s McCreary Centre Society found increased drug use by youth related to factors such as food insecurity, identifying as gay or bisexual, living in care, or experiencing physical abuse. Addressing social factors rather than increasing policing should be a goal to lower drug use among youth.
A strong relationship between schools and police in Kamloops is important. But the over policing of racialized groups, as well as the far higher numbers of Indigenous peoples involved in the criminal justice system, both should make Kamloops-Thompson School District consider the role of police in our schools.
All students need to feel safe and secure. It is not clear that the school district has addressed the way police may be perceived is different by students of different backgrounds.
Both school districts and police have roles in keeping children and youth safe. But in their role of educating students in a safe, secure environment, it is time that Kamloops-Thompson School District needs to review and revise its relationship with police, so that all its students feel secure.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.