Ottawa police program gives officers timely info to help each school, SRO head says

The Ottawa police program that places officers in schools is important because it allows them to become familiar with the different schools' environments and their needs, says the head of the 20-year-old program (SRO).

The OCDSB is doing public meetings on 20-year-old SRO program, part of review of its relationship with police

Ottawa police Supt. Jamie Dunlop says the school resource officer program (SRO) is important to create relationships with the schools, including when police need to respond to any incidents.

The Ottawa police program that places officers in schools is important because it allows police to become familiar with each school's differing environment to better meet their needs, says the head of the 20-year-old program.

"Every school is in a different environment, in a different geographic location, has different issues," Supt. Jamie Dunlop told CBC Ottawa. "Having an officer that's responsible just for that location is very important for a more timely response."

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDS) is holding consultations on police intervention in schools, which includes reviewing the school resource officer program (SRO). 

The public consultations come after debates last summer, when OCDSB trustee Lyra Evans put forward a motion to get rid of the SROs at Ridgemont and Gloucester high schools. They are the only SROs paid for by the school board and the only ones who work at schools full time. 

Asilu Collective, which was founded by three former Merivale High School students, was created in May 2020 specifically to address police presence in Ottawa schools. 

The group said it has heard from many students, especially Black and Indigenous students, that the presence of police in the halls can cause stress and fear that could lead to a poor learning environment. 

Hailey Dash, one of the co-founders, said Asilu Collective disagrees with the premise of community policing because she said students who come from diverse communities already feel over-policed, and that's only reinforced by having an SRO in school. 

Hailey Dash, one of the co-founders of Asilu Collective, a group created to call for an end to police intervention in Ottawa-area schools, says students who come from diverse communities already feel over-policed. (Submitted by Hailey Dash)

"These youth are already being surveilled and over-policed in their communities. And so with an SRO at their school, that's just more policing," she said. 

The group wants to see all four boards, including the OCDSB, end their relationships with the Ottawa Police Service and instead invest money into the root causes of issues that lead to violence and other problems. 

"We have been advocating for things like trauma informed counselling, free meal programs at schools, more resources in the schools that students have asked for," said Dash.

She said she attended one of the consultation sessions this week and heard the other two — for Somali- and Arabic- speaking families — went well and were "very healing, just because of the people they're surrounded with and having kind of a safe space to talk about these issues that everyone can relate to." 

Dunlop said the police service doesn't want to interfere in the review, but consulting on programs is important and hopes the school board takes into account information from "all students and all parents."