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Victoria police chief says board 'deeply' underplaying importance of school liaison officers

Del Manak suggests forming a committee to revise the program to address board concerns about students who don’t feel comfortable with officers in schools
VicPD Chief Const. Del Manak speaks to the media about gangs in schools last year. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak says he’s disappointed that the Greater Victoria School Board is sticking to its position that the school police-liaison program will not be reinstated, saying officers are critical to the deterrence and prevention of crime, violent activity and gang recruitment in school.

He said in a statement released Tuesday that the board’s stance comes even though parents, community members, students, leaders from the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) community, the province, local city councils and police have all expressed support for the program.

Manak said the board is “deeply” underplaying the valuable role that liaison officers play.

The board said its decision was made after 2 1/2 years of engagement and “reflects the evolving needs of students and the importance of safeguarding the rights of students.”

School board chair Nicole Duncan has said trustees had to consider the “trauma and harm” that police presence can mean for some students, including those who are Black and Indigenous.

Manak said he has made it clear to the board that he is open to a revised model for the program, noting that all officers receive training and certification through the Justice Institute of B.C., and those who are selected by their departments to be school-liaison officers “have, at their heart, the best interests of students in mind during every school interaction.”

He said children need “trusted adult resources” now more than ever.

Manak said he fully supports the additional services for youth that the school board refers to, including health-care workers, social workers and counsellors, but said they have not replaced liaison officers.

Since the board’s decision to remove school police-liaison officers in May 2023 — which also affected the Saanich Police Department — “the safety and well-being of students has become an area of significant concern in [district] schools,” Manak said.

He acknowledged that the department made the “difficult decision” to pull out of the program due to budget issues in 2018, but said officers continued to be active in schools.

“I have been clear that I am ready to re-commit officers to this program immediately,” said the police chief.

Manak suggested forming a committee to revise the program to address board concerns about students who don’t feel comfortable with officers in schools.

He said keeping students safe “requires having trust and a relationship, and that relationship is built through regular, positive interactions, which is the basis of the [program].”

“If a program designed to protect children has immense benefits, but is imperfect, instead of removing it altogether let us work to address those concerns head-on and improve it with an eye to building trust and mutual understanding.”

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