Vancouver School Board to vote on future of school liaison officer program
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver School Board could decide the fate of the long-running School Liaison Officer program during a meeting on Monday night.
The SLO program puts police officers in Vancouver's elementary and secondary schools. According to the Vancouver Police Department website, school liaison officers deliver crime prevention lessons, counsel and talk informally to students, and investigate criminal offences relating to the schools.
The program has been under review for close to a year, after high-profile instances of police brutality in the United States sparked conversations around the role of police in the community. Several community groups, including some teachers, are calling for VPD officers to be removed from the city's schools.
“What we’re hearing increasingly from the community – specifically the BIPOC and the LGBTQ community and newcomers to Canada – is that policing in schools is not a neutral or safe experience for those folks,” says Jody Polukoshko, third vice-president of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers Association
Last month, Argyle Communications completed a review on behalf of the VSB. Nearly 1,500 Vancouver residents were asked whether they believe school liaison officers contribute to a sense of safety in school. Sixty-one per cent of respondents said yes. However, 47 per cent of Indigenous students and just 15 per cent of Black students agreed.
Ali Chaudhry, who went to high school in East Vancouver, credits his school’s liaison officer with keeping him out of gang life.
"He was able to be there and show me what that life could really lead to, and what the real world is really about,” said Chaudhry, who is now 22. "The school liaison program is there for mentorship and guidance. It's there as a resource in high schools."
Simran Khabra, a 20-year-old former Vancouver high school student, understands why some kids would have a negative association with police, but said she doesn't see how removing officers from schools would improve anything. She believes the school setting is ideal for law enforcement and students to learn about each other.
"Having the SLO program is important in establishing a strong relationship between VPD and the youth, and that sort of relationship will only be possible when we have those conversations," Khabra said.
"All they have to do is talk to the officers," says Doug Spencer, a retired member of the VPD's gang crime unit. "If they feel intimidated that the officer is there, go up and speak to them. They're human beings. They're not going to be mad. They want to converse and work things out."
However, Polukoshko says police forces, like many other institutions, are forces of systemic racism, and don't have a place in schools until those issues are dealt with.
"In order to identify and acknowledge the fact that some students are disproportionately impacted, in our view, the program needs to be terminated," Polukoshko said.
The VPD-funded SLO program was launched in 1972. Chaudhry hopes it will be a resource for students for decades to come.
"We live in a high school bubble for five years and don't realize what is actually out there,” he said. “Being able to sit with someone who has that experience and can show you a little bit about the world makes a big difference."