Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Comment: School liaison decision should be based on accurate information

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak writes that he believes the decision to end the school police liaison-officer program was short-sighted and based on misinformation.
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak suggests that instead of cancelling the police school-liaison program, police and those critical of the program should discuss the concersn and try to find a solution. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by Victoria’s chief of police who is a former school liaison officer and a BIPOC ­parent.

I am writing to express my disappointment in the Greater Victoria School Board’s decision to end the school police liaison-officer program, and to address incorrect information that was provided during this decision.

I believe this decision is short-sighted and will do more harm than good; police officers proactively building relationships in schools is a positive program that is effective in supporting student safety.

The misleading and inaccurate information provided to the trustees clearly had an impact on their decision-making process, and I am, once again, compelled to correct the misinformation.

On May 31, leading up to the vote regarding this program, a trustee provided claims related to VicPD. Specifically, the trustee stated that in 2019, VicPD submitted 128 incident reports for arrest at school or on school property.

A review of our records reveals that only two youth arrests occurred at school or on school property.

The trustee also stated that in 2017, only four per cent of liaison officer reports involved a student-initiated file vs. a police-initiated file, and that 30 per cent of the reports came from Esquimalt High School, “which as we all know has a large demographic of BIPOC students.”

These comments suggested that we targeted Esquimalt High or that their BIPOC student population was over-policed. These inferences are false and unfairly reinforce negative stereotypes about police officers that some in the community choose to amplify.

The evidence shows that it is not police officers who are initiating these actions.

Our data shows that 82 per cent of the calls to schools that year were initiated by principals and staff, with an additional six per cent initiated by parents. Only one file was generated by a police officer, and this file was in response to an incident that occurred while the officer was already on site. There is no reason to believe the statistics would vary significantly from year to year.

These incorrect statements were followed with the claim that the liaison program “is based on enforcement and is not a community policing tool, as it does not support diversion from the criminal justice system.”

Our officers have always worked closely and collaboratively with principals and school teams to explore every avenue outside of the criminal justice system and, based on our review, not a single student was charged or directed to the criminal justice system from a school-related call during the most recent years that we had the program.

I am uncertain where the trustee’s claims were derived from, but there has been so much emphasis put on being evidence-driven that I am at a loss to understand why the trustees, or the program’s review committee did not request statistical data from us in order to conduct a data-driven analysis.

More than two years ago, a review committee was tasked with assessing the efficacy of the program, with representatives from all sectors. The ­committee heard from many people with varying opinions.

A survey was sent to all stakeholders, which included students, parents and teachers, and the results from more than 3,800 respondents were overall positive to keep the program. This is clearly the best evidence available to the trustees, so what happened?

Beyond the data is the lived experience of our school liaison officers. These officers will tell you that community-based policing was the only priority.

They attended fairs, dances, sporting events and school ­fundraising events. They attended funerals and, at the request of grieving families, attended their homes to support them.

They took dozens of personal calls for missing students, whether they were on shift or not. They showed up, every day and many nights, all because of the connections and the deep sense of responsibility they felt as a trusted and ­valuable resource for the students, ­teachers and parents in their school.

We must recognize and support all voices and experiences, but the trustees have chosen to focus on the voices who are against police in schools, rather than the wide variety of voices from all backgrounds who vehemently support this program.

We will never achieve 100 per cent agreement on this issue, but to address the concerns that exist, I would suggest that we must reopen and maintain meaningful dialogue with everyone, keeping an open mind and open heart.

Cancelling the program and relying on separation as a strategy is not the right solution to addressing the concerns raised.

In the face of this discourse, shouldn’t we collectively be sitting down with students and parents who didn’t support the program, listening to their concerns, and engaging in meaningful dialogue to work towards a solution? Isn’t this a better option rather than promoting exclusion and divisiveness?

We have already seen some school districts moving to reinstate their liaison programs after cancelling them, shouldn’t we learn from their experience?

School liaison officers are people who care deeply and would go to great lengths to ensure that no child feels traumatized in their presence.

Proactive work in identifying the issues and bridging relationships is the way forward. Steps that further prejudice and ­stereotypes of police officers through misinformation and segregation is not.

How can we call ourselves an inclusive society if we continue to perpetuate fear, stigma and misinformation about our police officers?

Unfortunately, the greatest impact of this decision will be on students who are caught in the middle. This is a true shame, and the negative impacts may not be fully understood immediately.

While I hope the trustees will reconsider their position, VicPD remains committed to building relationships directly with the entire school community, and indirectly through the programs that allow us to connect in positive ways with the young people in our communities.

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: [email protected]