'I don't turn the school into a police state': officer who works in schools defends controversial program

A Toronto Police officer participating in the force's controversial School Resource Officer program explains why he thinks the program should live on.

The fate of the School Resource Officer program will be decided in December

Const. Peter de Quintal has been a school resource officer for the past two years. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Toronto Police constable Peter de Qunital says the force's controversial School Resource Officer (SRO) program is a benefit to the community and should live on.

He's voicing his support for the program a day after a heated meeting in which the Toronto Police Services Board debated the SRO program amidst protests.

The board ultimately voted to defer its final decision until December.

Const. de Quintal spoke to CBC's Helen Mann on Metro Morning.

Helen Mann: Tell us a little bit about your day-to-day experience in the schools and the kind of interactions that you have.

Peter de Quintal: In general they're really positive. Schools such as Blessed Archbishop Romero have been very welcoming, I've only been there for the past year and they've been very welcoming, Chaminade College, I only have positive things to say. I believe the student body in general wants us there, they're welcoming. I don't turn the school into a police state, I don't patrol the hallways. I'm a resource to them, I'm a means of engagement, speaking to a police officer that's not necessarily on the street. [Students can] get information, speaking to me about different things, personal interests, I'm not just this uniform. It's the idea of humanizing it.

HM: [The previous guest] said that in her experience kids are confronted by police officers, they may be questioned about things that they've witnessed, they may be asked to identify themselves, does that happen?

PD: No. I may speak to you, like if you saw a crime happen I may have a conversation with you, but just like anyone else you're more than welcome to leave. I'm very casual about the conversations because the idea is that I don't want to get into where a child or student feels intimidated by me, that's not the goal of the program. The goal of the program is to engage them to make them comfortable with the uniform. Yes I'm an authority figure but let's have this conversation just like it's any other staff member [at a school].

HM: But you are a police officer in uniform, and a lot of kids are going to feel that authority might make them wary about walking away. They have the right to but perhaps do you think they're intimidated?

PD: They may be, but I think, in general, no. The goal of the program is to bring down that. I run different things, I do a breakfast program — I do Star Wars breakfast — how is that intimidating? I make toast that pops out saying Star Wars on it. I play basketball with the students. I go on different trips. I get speakers to come in… I run bike rodeo programs. None of this is meant to be intimidating, it's to engage, it's to show the community that we're here, we're equal partners.

Student Andrew Ramautar, 14, says he sometimes feels uncomfortable with police officers in his school. (CBC)

HM: Overall it sounds like you've had a positive experience. Have you had any challenges in your experience with children and their families who don't want you in their schools?

PD: I've had challenges. I had one student who would yell certain things at me. Eventually, she began to volunteer at my bike rodeo programs... I can say I've had success stories where a student may not want to speak with me, but if you give me time… I have a sense of humour, I'm pretty charismatic, let's have a conversation.

HM: How would you describe the diversity in the school in which you work?

PD: Very diverse, in general. One of them is an all-male school so it lacks the female portion, but other than that it's very diverse.

HM: Is there something positive that comes to not just the police officer but the force itself in terms of how it interacts with communities in a city by having these relationships?

PD: It's the idea of humanizing the badge, yes I'm a police officer but I'm more than that, I'm a human behind this. I have a family I go home to… I think I do a lot of great things and I think a lot of officers are doing a lot of great things and I think we show it on a daily basis.