Peel police suspend program that puts uniformed officers in schools

Peel police say they have decided to "pause" a program that puts uniformed officers in schools to give the service time to consult the community about the practice. The move follows complaints from students in some schools that they don't feel safe.

Police to start consultations this summer, school boards support decision

A Peel Regional Police officer walks outside a high school in Mississauga. In its School Resource Officer program, Peel police assign uniformed officers to schools.

Peel police say they have decided to "pause" a program that puts uniformed officers in schools to give the service time to consult the community about the practice.

Const. Akhil Mooken, spokesperson for Peel Regional Police, said the pause in the School Resource Officer program is effective immediately and it is expected that the program will not resume this September if schools reopen.

"It's really a re-evaluation of the program to see what we need to change and how we need to change it," Mooken told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.

"We're pausing the program so that we can completely look at it, have those consultations and determine what our next steps forward are."

In a news release on Tuesday, police said they will lead a consultation process beginning this summer and a report is expected in this winter. The program involves putting uniformed police officers in schools in Peel region.

Both the Peel District School Board (PDSB) and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB) say they support the decision.

Nishan Duraiappah, the Peel Regional police chief, said the service launched the program more than 20 years ago to build relationships with students, administrators and staff and to respond to complaints that happened on school property, but he acknowledged that the needs of schools have changed.

"The needs of the community and school environments have changed and advanced to a level where the service delivery requires a vital review of the program and a complete overhaul of the system that oversees the SRO program," Duraiappah said in the release.

One uniformed officer was assigned to each high school in Brampton and Mississauga, while one officer was assigned to several elementary and middle schools. According to a 2018 independent university study, the program cost $9 million a year.

Police said they will consult with as many groups of people as possible, including the school boards themselves, the Black Community Action Network and Moyo Community Health Services, as well as students, families, academics and advocates. 

The consultation process will "collectively determine the next steps" for the program, the chief said.

"We recognize that the consultative process needs the allocation of the requisite time and resources to ensure an equitable and trustworthy method," Duraiappah said.

Some students don't feel safe, 1 board says

The PDSB said in the release that the pausing of the program is needed to ensure students feel safe at school and the board has been told that the consultation will be extensive. 

"We have been assured that Peel Regional Police will engage in a consultation process with stakeholders, including Peel District School Board staff and the diverse communities we serve, in particular members of the Black, African and Caribbean communities," Jaspal Gill, interim director of education for the PDSB, said.

"We have heard from members of our school communities, in particular those who identify as Black and Indigenous, that they do not feel safe when SRO's and other police officers are present in Peel schools. PRP's action to pause the SRO program is necessary."

Bruce Rodrigues, supervisor for the PDSB, said the board will do its own consultation with students, staff, families and the diverse communities it serves, in particular Black, African and Caribbean communities, once the police develop a "model for youth engagement."

"If we determine that the new model does not meet the needs of the students and families we serve, we will not move ahead," Rodrigues said. 

"We are committed to listening to and working alongside the communities we serve to eliminate anti-Black racism and discriminatory practices in Peel schools and work sites."

'All voices' will have their say, Catholic board says

The DPCDSB said it also supports a review of the program because of the focus on community consultation.

Marianne Mazzorato, director of education for the DPCDSB, said: "We have been assured that authentic stakeholder consultation will be a key component of this review and we are pleased that all voices will have the opportunity to provide feedback.

"Our hope is that the program can truly support our goal to provide safe, caring and inclusive schools that uphold the dignity and respect of all students and staff."

Marc Andrews, Peel police's deputy chief of community policing operations, said the police will keep the public informed about the consultation process.

"Peel police acknowledges the need for systemic change to support our essential mandate of keeping our communities safe," he said.

A Toronto police officer directs students from Central Technical School in the west end after students were released following a lockdown. Gun shots were fired at the school but no one was injured. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

In November 2017, the Toronto District School Board, which is the largest school board in Canada, voted to cancel its School Resource Officer program, a decision that was applauded by community groups.

That decision followed a board staff report that recommended the program be eliminated because it caused some students to feel uncomfortable and even intimidated.