Disappointment, indifference, relief: Toronto reacts to removal of cops from schools

One day after the Toronto District School Board decided to scrap a program that placed armed police officers in schools on a part-time basis, students at the high school where the program first began were split over the decision.

Activists call decision to scrap program that puts armed officers in schools a ‘huge victory’

A day after the TDSB voted to remove police officers from schools, high school student Mariam Imran said she's sad to see them go. (CBC)

One day after the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) voted to scrap a program that placed armed police officers in schools on a part-time basis, students at the high school where the program first began were split over the decision.

The School Resource Officer program first came to C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in North York in 2008, after 15-year-old Jordan Manners was shot and killed there in 2007, and spread to 45 other schools in the nine years since.

"I thought they make you feel safer," said C.W. Jefferys student Mariam Imran,16. "Anything goes wrong you can go to her and she'll help you out. I don't like that they removed them."

Several others were unfamiliar with the program and said they never interacted with the police at all.

C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute has had the School Resource Officer program longer than any other school, but on Thursday, several students said they were unaware that the program existed. (CBC)

"I never really saw them, only once or twice," said Anna McLean, also 16. "To be honest, I thought they were here for security, in case something happens," she said, adding that she didn't feel any less safe now that an officer would no longer be on school grounds.  

Still other students who spoke to CBC Toronto in the schoolyard said they had felt intimidated by the police and had negative interactions with them.

'Huge victory' for community groups

It's that last group that TDSB chair Robin Pilkey said needed to be heard in a Thursday morning appearance on CBC's Metro Morning.

"A significant number of students felt that they were being watched, that they were being intimidated, that they were being targeted in their schools," she told host Matt Galloway.

In all, about 2,000 students surveyed by the TDSB said they felt intimidated or watched by the officers, said Pilkey.

Though 57 per cent of students expressed positive feelings towards the program, she said the board's concerns were "about those people who generally don't have voices."

LeRoi Newbold of Black Lives Matter Toronto, along with several other activists and community group leaders, gave an early morning news conference lauding the decision made by the TDSB. (CBC)

Also speaking out the day after the decision were activists and community leaders, who celebrated the decision as historic and precedent-setting.

"We have had children afraid of going to school and avoiding going to school because of the School Resource Officer program," said LeRoi Newbold, director of Black Lives Matter Toronto. "Today, black parents can send our children to school without being fearful."

"This was a huge victory for our community," said Phillip Morgan, a member of the group Education not Incarceration. "Schools are safer now without police."

Morgan, Newbold, and others also called on other school boards, including the Toronto Catholic District School Board, to follow the same path as the TDSB.

Lost opportunity, say police

On the law enforcement side, the move to scrap the program is being painted as a lost opportunity.

"We see the benefits every day of the week and in every part of the city from the interactions between police and young people," said Mark Pugash, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service. "We're going to continue doing that, because we know it works."

Vanessa Leslie, an inspector for the Ontario Provincial Police, described the program as a unique opportunity to build bridges.

Mark Pugash, speaking for the Toronto Police Service, said that the police goal of reaching out to young people was unchanged, and that they looked forward to working with the TDSB in other ways. (CBC)

"It adds to that relatability that the officers have so, when it does come down to giving a statement or speaking to officers they're less intimidated," she said on Metro Morning, adding that the TDSB's decision was "disappointing."  

Mayor John Tory took a similar line, wondering why the program could not just be improved.

"It should have been reviewed over the 10 years and it was not, causing the feelings to build up," he said.