An independent university study has delivered a ringing endorsement of a controversial program that places uniformed police officers in Peel District schools.
The study, which was conducted at five high schools between 2014 and 2017, set out to determine if the School Resource Officer (SRO) program improved safety for students and staff at the schools.
The researchers from Carleton University said the program not only met its stated safety goals, but also improved the relationship between students and police.
"During the interviews, a majority of students and school administrators stated that having an SRO assigned to their school makes administrators, teachers, and students feel safer when they are at school," wrote professors Linda Duxbury and Craig Bennell in the report.
The study included interviews with 23 SROs. 11 police supervisors, 44 school administrators and 8 students. More than 1200 Grade 9 students also filled out surveys about the program.
The findings were released on Wednesday.
Toronto schools cancel program
In November, the Toronto District School Board voted to cancel its SRO program after it drew scathing criticism from activist groups including Black Lives Matter Toronto.
A study conducted by staff at the Toronto board also recommended the program be scrapped.
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Peel Regional Police (PRP) established a precursor to its SRO program in 2003, but researchers said little was known about its actual benefits or cost effectiveness.
The program has an annual budget of $9 million but has been "very challenging to identify the value that this program provides to students and the community," the researchers wrote.
72 police officers and 8 civilians are employed by the program.
Students, staff offer praise
"Having the police at the school helps all of us, but especially victims of bullying…it means you don't have to be a victim," said one anonymous Grade 9 student quoted in the report.
"Students take the rules more seriously because the police can enforce them," said another student.
Administrators also praised the program, noting the value of improved safety, the creation of positive relationships and the power of deterrence.
"Without the SRO, we would be calling 911 all the time," said one administrator.
"It just... it makes life easier," said another.
A more certain future
The authors of the study offered little criticism of the program, and said Peel Regional Police would be right to continue offering the SRO program.
At the moment, there is no indication that the service is considering changes to the program.
The school board has no plans to vote on the the program.