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Edmonton Public Schools could still suspend police officer program
EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Public Schools Board may vote again on whether or not to suspend the School Resource Officers program.
Last week the board voted against the suspension of the program, but Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks wants to reconsider the vote and revisit the debate Tuesday.
"Based on what I've heard, and the stories that I've heard and what I've learned, we need as a board to keep listening and do what is being asked of us, which is why I'm strongly leaning towards suspending the program pending the review," Estabrooks said.
All trustees need to agree to reopen the SRO debate.
One trustee resigned after the first debate after she made remarks about refugee students that were denounced as racist.
STUDY ON SROs IN ALBERTA
There have been police officers in Edmonton Public Schools for more than 40 years, but the education district decided to review the role of SROs as the city considers whether or not to defund police.
Similar programs have been scrapped in Toronto and Hamilton.
"There are questions about what police actually do in terms of their specific activities," said University of Calgary law professor Asad Kiyani. "Are they searching students, searching lockers, or questioning students in schools and do they need to be doing that?"
A recent study, Violence in Alberta's Urban Schools: The Perspectives of School Resource Officers, surveyed and interviewed 41 out of Alberta's 60 SROs.
The study does not make a case for or against SRO; however, it recommends standardized training after "SRO participants indicated that their training was not specific to the role."
"SROs and police organizations would also benefit from a standardized training regimen that would provide coherence and clear guidelines in the selection and training of SROs and a province-wide designation of the SRO position within all police services."
In a letter to the Edmonton Public School Board, the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association Policing Committee called for the immediate suspension of its SRO program, arguing that having police officers in schools puts criminal suspicion on students instead of protecting them.
"Any interaction a student has with an SRO is an interaction with a police officer who is – as a product of their training – perpetually assessing whether grounds to detail, search, or arrest an individual exist," said CTLA PC Chair and criminal lawyer Tom Engel.
Engel added the program disproportionally Black and Indigenous students, taking them out of the classroom "and into the criminal justice system."
Engel calls for a suspension and a review of the program, and that the funds used on SROs are divested to social and community resources for students.
With files from Sarah Plowman