Hamilton

Cancel the police liaison program, author Lawrence Hill tells the HWDSB

Acclaimed author Lawrence Hill says a Hamilton public school board should scrap its program that sees police in local high schools.

Trustees will vote on the subject again today, but this time, whether to cancel the program right away

Acclaimed local author Lawrence Hill says the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board should cancel its police liaison program. (CBC)

Acclaimed author Lawrence Hill says Hamilton's public school board should scrap a program that sees police in local high schools.

Hill, a Hamilton resident whose works include The Illegal and The Book of Negroes, says he sides with the group HWDSB Kids Need Help. That group wants the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) to vote Monday to cancel its police liaison program as it studies whether to continue with it.

"I ask you to show true leadership, and to listen to your communities," Hill said in the letter. 

"I ask you to pay attention to the protests that have arisen across Canada and around the world in recent weeks to oppose anti-Black violence. You have the opportunity to learn from this critical moment in Canadian and world history."

The board voted on June 8 for staff to review the program and report back in October. In the meantime, the program will continue.

The motion today from trustee Christine Bingham (west Hamilton) is similar, but would suspend the program until the review is finished. The board meeting starts at 6 p.m.

The local program differs from one in Toronto that ended in 2017 after similar calls. In Toronto, officers were stationed in a number of schools. In Hamilton, officers are not posted to schools, but are called in for reasons such as drug sweeps, lockdown drills, investigations and education sessions.

A Hamilton Police Service (HPS) youth crime report this month says officers made 2,496 school visits last year, and conducted 838 investigations, 515 meetings, 198 school lockdown drills, and 87 incidents of informal restorative justice.

Of the 559 youth calls for service last year, the report says, 34 per cent were school-related incidents.

Clint Twolan, president of the Hamilton Police Association, told CBC this month that some of the recent discussion is disappointing.

"We are never looking to get into disagreements with other publicly funded institutions," he said, "but when something like this comes out, it's important they're challenged."

With the school liaison program, the Hamilton Police Service works with principals and board staff toward "the prevention and correction of youth crime," says a 2016 protocol between HWDSB and police.

This includes the Strategic Targeted Offender Program (STOP), which uses a crime prevention officer, community service officers, a youth services co-ordinator, division youth officers, school resources officers, the gang and weapons enforcement unit, among other police efforts.

"The police work with parents/guardians through presentations to school councils on topics such as bullying, street-proofing and safety," the protocol says. "The police also work in concert with other agencies in bringing preventive programs such as bike safety, safe graduations, and internet safety to schools for the education of students, staff and parents/guardians."

Some trustees, like Paul Tutt (Dundas), wanted the motion on June 8 to go farther.

"I have now come to the conclusion that we now need to suspend this program," Tutt said then, while a "robust and wide-ranging review" takes place.

Others, like Carole Paikin Miller (Centennial), said they needed to know more. "I would like to feel that we're getting all the facts before we make any sweeping, broad generalizations about anything."

In his letter, Hill points out that the Toronto District School Board has already eliminated its policing programs. Scrapping the program, he said, is a chance for the board "to take concrete steps to address overt and systemic racism in our country – specifically, in the schools comprising the HWDSB."

Hill, who has written extensively about Black history, human rights, and the experiences of refugees, told trustees to cancel the program now and study it later.

"You can hire experts to advise you about how to address racism in your own schools more effectively," he said. "You can and should investigate the most effective methods of ensuring that all students in the HWDSB are safe, respected and intellectually stimulated. But for the time being, you do not have to re-invent any wheels."

"Your communities are watching. Do the right thing and abolish the police liaison program."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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