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Les Leyne: School board and teachers' flip-flop on police isn't a good look

Some groups have done remarkable 180-degree flips to come out stridently against a program they once whole-heartedly supported.
web1_vka-rally-9926 THUMB
From left, Mark Jenkins, Tomas Lee, 9, Thomas Lee, 12, and Jaye Lee hold signs at a rally in front of the Greater Victoria School District office on Boleskine Road on Monday. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak is taking another run at resurrecting the school police liaison program.

It’s a wonder he’d bother, given the insulting treatment that local police have received from key groups during the ­public argument about the program.

Particularly the Greater Victoria School Board and the Greater Victoria Teachers’ ­Association, both of which have done remarkable 180-degree flips to come out stridently against a program they once whole- heartedly supported.

Manak felt forced to cut the program in 2018 due to the never-ending Victoria-Esquimalt funding argument.

The school board of the day and the teachers’ union strenuously objected. The board passed a formal motion to write letters to the municipal councils “outlining the value police liaison officers play in our schools and express our disappointment and concern” about losing them.

The letter stressed “negative long-ranging impacts” from losing the police presence. Then-chair Jordan Watters did several interviews about the cancellation.

“They’re able to help [troubled] students along and develop a relationship over time,” she said.

The teachers’ union did exactly the same. It wrote to both councils saying the decision put vulnerable students at risk. “To a child, there is a profound difference between having a familiar and trusted person engage and de-escalate, and having a stranger attempt to intervene.”

But last year, the school board and the union reversed course completely.

After lengthy consideration, the board decided unanimously that school liaison officers “don’t meet the needs” of students.

It cited many positives, but “undeniably, there are some students and staff who do not feel safe with police in schools.”

Citing the “commitment to provide trauma-informed support and inclusive spaces,” they cancelled the program.

The teachers’ union urged the move and endorsed it completely, saying research showed “the police and criminal justice systems have been founded on and continue to perpetuate systemic racism.”

“We must not ignore … the ongoing harm caused by police.”

The big reversal developed as Indigenous reconciliation concerns were escalating dramatically. Despair and rage over the disgraceful string of U.S. atrocity stories involving American police officers injuring and killing innocent Black people were running high as well.

It was egged on by B.C. human rights commissioner Kasari Govender, who wrote to all school trustees urging them to halt such programs “until the impact of these programs can be established empirically.”

She wrote: “Indigenous, Black and other marginalized students have raised significant concerns about the harm caused by having police in schools.”

Govender cited research her office had commissioned. But the main conclusion of that research was that there were very few studies on the topic. And most of the scanty research available was from the U.S.

The experience with militarized police in that gun-ridden country is a whole different story. Transferring revulsion about bad U.S. cops into a move to stop police in Greater Victoria from interacting with kids is a stretch.

The speed with which the board and the union abandoned their support and turned on the police makes you wonder about the depth of their convictions.

Local police departments have their share of personnel problems and misconduct issues. But it’s about the same share that any collective of human beings produce.

Systemic racism in police departments should be acknowledged. But is it at a level where local departments (which have become noticeably more diverse over the years) should be barred from visiting schools? Unlikely.

B.C.’s civilian oversight authority looks into any complaints about police conduct. You can count on your fingers the number of local ones they deem worthy of looking into most years.

No doubt there are some BIPOC marginalized children who are scared of police. But that’s exactly what the program is supposed to help deal with — meeting them in a non-threatening way in a safe space.

Just So You Know: Disclosure: I’m a white male and my main personal interaction with cops over the years has been ­reporting stolen bicycles. So it’s not for me to pronounce on race-based trauma, other than to sincerely sympathize with people who feel it.

But the idea that police visits to local schools do more harm than good sounds absurd.

Manak grew up going to George Jay and Central Middle Schools and likes to drop by now and then. Connect with his roots and all that.

He’s technically no longer welcome in uniform.

The optics around education leaders closing the school doors on officers who are led by a minority local kid who grew up to be a police chief is a bad look for all concerned.

lleyne@timescolonist.com