Ottawa high schools' police presence shows results

An Ottawa police officer stationed at a Vanier high school with a rough reputation says he can see a difference in the character of the school since he arrived three years ago.

Ottawa Technical Secondary School in Vanier had most police visits in 2013

About this map

CBC News used the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection Privacy Act to obtain an extract of the database that Ottawa police use to track service calls to the city's English public and Catholic high schools in 2013.

These statistics reflect the number of times the police attended the school and do not necessarily mean there were arrests or charges.

Red icons represent public schools, while blue icons represent Catholic schools. Small dots represent elementary schools, while larger pointer icons represent high schools. Schools that don't fit into any other category are denoted with large green icons.

By Ashley Burke, CBC News

An Ottawa police officer who works at a Vanier high school with a rough reputation says he can see a difference in the character of the school since he arrived three years ago.

Const. Cory McAree is the school resource officer Ottawa Technical Secondary School, one of three “high-priority” schools he works at.

Ottawa Police and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board started the pilot project four years ago to help six schools that had received the most visits from police.

While McAree and another officer work with six schools between them, regular school resource officers work with between 14 and 24 schools.

Ottawa Technical Secondary School had the most calls to police in 2013, CBC News learned through an access to information request.

The school received 188 police visits for a range of complaints, including assault, sex assault, sexual exploitation, assault with a weapon and possession of a dangerous weapon.

Ottawa police Sgt. Heather Lachine cautioned that the numbers can be misleading.

"What the public needs to understand is that just because there are a number of calls for service at the school, it doesn't mean that there have been that many arrests or that they're negative calls for service,” said Ottawa police Sgt. Heather Lachine.

Lachine added that it could mean the officer is spending additional time building relationships with students.

Fewer drug calls since police stationed at school

Police say the numbers are down at Ottawa Tech since the project began.

Const. Cory McAree is one of the officers stationed at Ottawa Technical Secondary School as part of a pilot project. (CBC)
When McAree started there three years ago, he said the school was dealing with a drug problem. 

Many of the students come from rough neighbourhoods with little support at home, while others have intense behavioural needs. Students were found with cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and marijuana.

“Everyday someone that was coming in, that I would be speaking to, was under the influence or using... that was pretty concerning,” he said.

But he said building relationships with students has helped many clean up their acts.

In 2013, there was only one call to police for possession of marijuana.

"The drug issue has really gone down. That we've seen. If it's being abused, it's not being abused during school hours,” McAree said.

Building trust with students

McAree recalls crossing paths with a distraught student while walking the halls earlier this month. The student was worked up, yelling at two teachers and saying he had been punched in the face. McAree helped calm him down.

McAree said he makes sure he knows every student’s name at his schools. He said his goal is to have students trust not just him, but all police.

He helps coach a hockey team and has taken students with behavioural issues on a fishing trip.

“We can help in many ways. We don’t always have to arrest and charge, and put (them) through the courts," McAree said.

'I'd hate to see him disappointed in me': student

Sgt. Heather Lachine says while regular school resource officers deal with 14 to 24 schools, the pilot project SROs handle just three schools each. (CBC)
Grade 12 student Liam Rado is just one example.

Rado’s now staying away from cocaine and heroin, and when he has a weak moment he thinks of McAree.

“Friendship. I don't want to lose friendship. No one likes to be alone. It’s as simple as that... I'd hate to see him disappointed in me. It would be terrible,” said Rado.

The program is funded year-to-year, so McAree can't say how much longer it will continue. But he hopes the lessons he's teaching students will be passed on.

He’s already seeing students like Liam Rado change the culture of the school by encouraging other students not to go down the wrong path.

“He's lived through the pain. He doesn't want others to do that. So it's great. He's a success story,” said McAree.

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