Black community disagrees
London’s police union says it’s time to bring back a program that places police officers in schools, but a parent and activist argues the move would be step back for London’s Black community.
The London Police Association has posted an online petition arguing that the student resource officer (SRO) program should be reinstated.
The Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) put the program on hold in 2021. The decision was made in response to a board survey, which found that having officers in schools could be a source of trauma for some racialized groups.
Many school boards in the GTA have made the decision to scrap the program completely. In London, the TVDSB has said it will revisit the decision to pause the program in the months to come but has not given a timeline.
London Police Association president Paulo Domingues said not having the program over the past year has made students less safe.
Domingues pointed to news stories about recent violent incidents at high schools — including fights at Saunders Secondary and a stabbing at H.B. Beal — as evidence that SROs are needed.
Gal Harper doesn’t want to see the program return. He’s an activist and former member of Black Lives Matter London. He’s also a parent of two children, one who just entered the public system in Kindergarten.
“Having armed police officers in the school, it’s not necessarily a welcoming environment for a lot of Black students,” said Harper. “It doesn’t really invoke the type of feelings or the atmosphere that I personally would want for my kids when they’re supposed to be there to feel safe and to be able to learn.”
And while the police union says the officers’ role has more to do with education than enforcement, Harper says it’s a role that could be carried out by counsellors and other professionals, not uniformed police officers.
Rick Robson, the union’s executive director, believes some of the concern about SROs is based on a misconception about how they work. Robson said the officers were each responsible for four or five schools. Much of their role involves education or preemptively responding to incidents that could flare up into violence.
involves education or preemptively responding to incidents that could flare up into violence.
“These are not security guards,” said Robson.
Harper, however, says it’s important to keep in mind that people of colour have very different experiences when it comes to police interactions.
“The Black Lives Matter movement really started to get people hearing some issues that they didn’t hear before, and elevated the voices of people who were feeling a certain way,” he said.