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Supporters of police officers in schools rally at school district office

The Greater Victoria School Board voted unanimously last spring to cut the school-liaison officer program

About a dozen people rallied at the Greater Victoria School District office on Monday in support of a discontinued program that regularly brought police officers to schools.

Parents and Police Together member Lori Poppe said the presence of school-liaison ­officers is a great benefit for students, adding they have a very different mandate from patrol officers. “Their goal is to have relationships with students, divert any worrisome behaviours and, in the long-term, it equals crime prevention,” said Poppe, whose son Mason is in Grade 7 and son Thomas is in Grade 3 in district schools.

While Victoria police haven’t had school-liaison officers since 2018 due to budget shortfalls, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak — a former school-liaison officer himself — wanted the program to be restarted. But the Greater Victoria School Board voted unanimously last spring to cut it outright, with board chair Nicole Duncan saying at the time that trustees had to look at the “trauma and harm” that a police presence can mean for some students, including those who are Black and Indigenous.

That followed a 2022 letter to the B.C. School Trustees Association from B.C. human rights commissioner Kasari Govender recommending that school-­liaison officers no longer be posted at schools until the need for them can be proven.

Manak and Saanich Police Chief Dean Duthie both ­disagreed with the board’s decision, with Duthie noting that his department had been active in the program for decades.

He said after the decision that six officers working in the program at 25 schools in the municipality were immediately reassigned — and were “emotionally taken aback” because of their passion for their role.

Saanich police still have liaison officers in the Saanich School District and some private schools, while the Sooke School District maintains a ­longstanding liaison program.

Poppe said her group would welcome modifications if the program were reinstated in order to deal with any concerns about students who might not be comfortable seeing an officer in uniform. “We want absolutely every child to be safe at school so they can thrive and be there for their education,” she said.

She said any concerns the board has can be worked through. “We just want the school board to open up dialogue and revisit this issue.”

Former school-liaison officer Mark Jenkins, who has children in Grades 9, 10 and 12, said at the rally that the program is especially important in the wake of a 2023 report that gangs have been trying to make inroads at Victoria schools. “Those gangs are not going away,” he said.

Poppe said she has invited trustees to seminars on the gang issue but none have attended so far. The school board issued an invitation last October for the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board to meet with them, but the meeting has not yet happened.

jbell@timescolonist.com