HWDSB trustees to ask province to end police liaison programs at schools

A literature review from Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board shows there isn't much data to show any benefits from police liaison officer programs.

HWDSB review says there isn't much data showing the police liaison officer programs offer much benefit

HWDSB's report on the impact of the police liaison program in Hamilton schools will be done this spring. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Trustees from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) will send a letter to the province asking it to review and replace police liaison programs across Ontario.

This comes after a literature review that the board says shows "no definitive conclusion that the program has a causal effect on reducing misbehaviour, safety issues in schools, or improving the school climate."

Instead, the board says, the province should replace the program with more support for health, families and the schools themselves.

"The argument against officers in schools is that the police come with one tool in their toolbox: the criminal justice system," said vice-chair Cam Galindo, who moved the motion Monday that passed unanimously.

"And when they seek out racialized and marginalized students to build relationships, they uncover behaviours resulting from being disadvantaged and are ill-equipped to offer solutions outside of the justice system."

"There is need to champion courageous conversations and include student voices and experiences ... there is a need to address gaps in our system."

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board voted to terminate its police liaison program during a meeting in 2020. Meanwhile, protesters with Hamilton Students for Justice (formerly HWDSB Kids Need Help) blocked off Main Street outside Hamilton City Hall. (@HWDSBKids/Twitter)

Trustees cancelled the controversial program last June following student concerns that it perpetuated racism in schools.

Officers were not posted to schools as part of the program, but were called in for reasons such as drug sweeps, lockdown drills, investigations and education sessions. The program involved 11 officers who oversaw 196 schools.

Now, officers only attend schools as required by legislation, in situations such as lockdown drills or crime-related incidents.

Police chiefs association wants more research first

Hamilton Police Service was disappointed, saying that the program made schools safer and helped officers build relationships with students.

"We were hopeful there could be a review and perhaps some re-envisioning of the program," Supt. Will Mason said then. "But we respect their decision and we'll continue to  look forward and look for ways to engage youth. That's something that we feel is very important."

Joe Couto, spokesperson for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said the statement last summer did acknowledge "mixed" findings but said more research needed to be done. It also said interactions with students and others ranged from crime prevention to student mentoring.

"School boards and communities have to make decisions that are right for their communities but I know Hamilton police are very committed and have been throughout the years to their schools," he said.

"We've made it quite clear simply banning police officers from school without consultation, discussion and study is not the right way to go ... if the province decides to look at school resource officer programs as a whole, we're more than happy to participate."

On Monday, HWDSB staff said there were as few as five Canadian publications about the police liaison officer (PLO) program. Those articles showed the role of police liaison officers is not clear, the board says, and comes with little to no training. 

The review also found such programs aren't monitored or supervised with clear outcomes.

'School-to-prison pipeline'

"It was recognized in the Canadian literature that the role of police in schools should be limited to serious criminal behaviours, crises and emergency planning," the review says.

The American literature "went further and suggested there is a school-to-prison pipeline as a result of police liaison officers in schools."

"Both Canadian and U.S.A. bodies of literature contain suggestions for improving the PLO program, even though serious consideration is urged to replace PLO programs with more school support, mental and physical health supports, and family supports."

A staff report also said of the 52 emails to HWDSB last spring, people were concerned about harassment, over-monitoring, a sense of threat, fear of violence, racial profiling, police verbal abuse and physical harm, the entry of children into the criminal justice system, and the lack of monitoring and training that goes into PLO programs.

Some trustees like Maria Felix Miller, Alex Johnstone and student trustee Ethan Hesler all said the current review is missing student voices.

Tracker shows police involvement in Hamilton schools

The review from HWDSB also shows how often police and local public schools interacted since November. There's no data from before November.

Schools called on police 15 times for various reasons like weapon possession, non-consensual sharing of intimate images, serious threats of violence, secure school planning/implementation, vandalism, or the threat of imminent harm to a student.

Police requested school involvement seven times for investigations, custody issues and secure schools, but HWDSB notes a request by police does not mean the school provides the information.

There have also been seven requests from the community or parents for police involvement.

Administrators can now access a Safe Schools Hub, which is a "one-stop shop" resource. All drills and associated resources (lockdowns, bomb threats, etc.) also now include a reminder that there is the potential that uniformed police will be in the building to inform and support best practices as they relate to the safety of the school community.

Working group will establish next steps

HWDSB is creating a 12-member working group from people in its First Nation, Métis and Inuit advisory committee and human rights and equity advisory committee.

That group will review any gaps in programs, and come up with a plan to reach out to the community for ideas about how the board can provide more safe and inclusive programming. 

Batool Dahab, a member of Hamilton Students for Justice (formerly HWDSB Kids Need Help) was one of the students who shared her experience with discrimination and Islamophobia during a media conference in 2020. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Those consultations will include specific student groups and the community.

The group will also come up with the criteria the board will consider in selecting partners, groups or organizations to support classroom activities and presentations.

The final report comes in March.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.


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