Vancouver School Board votes to end liaison officer program, leading to divided reaction
VANCOUVER -- There is mixed reaction to the Vancouver School Board’s decision to end the school liaison officer program, effective at the end of June.
On Monday, board trustees voted 8-1 against continuing the program.
Trustee Jennifer Reddy was the only one who opposed the motion, not because she supports keeping officers in schools - she says the motion doesn’t go far enough to keep officers out.
“It isn’t clear about the discontinuation of police in schools,” Reddy says, referring to one request from the board that the VPD continue to support programs offered to students.
“It’s not only failing to address but dismisses the harm that we learned about from children and youth who spoke very directly to the harm that they experience when police are in their schools,” she said.
Last month, Argyle Communications completed a review of the police officer liaison program 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.
Before the vote on Monday night, a number of parents and educators who opposed the program held a public Zoom press conference. One speaker was Parker Johnson, a parent of a Vancouver student. Johnson is also an independent consultant on organizational change and a volunteer with the Hogan's Alley Society.
“As a parent I continue to be concerned about safety in schools being defined by the presence of police,” he said.
“The police presence sends a clear message in many ways to Black and Indigenous youth ‘don’t get comfortable, regardless of whether the school is your second home we have a watch on you and we’re able to take legal and physical action against you.’ And while that may not be the intention of the police, that’s how their presence is often felt.”
Const. Tania Visintin with the Vancouver Police Department described the decision as “very disappointing,” adding that the VPD is now looking to redeploy the officers.
“SLO’s have been in our schools for decades,” Const. Visintin said. “They were coaches on sports teams, they led safety initiatives.”
Among those also disappointed to see the program axed is former East Vancouver student Ali Chaudhry.
“It's a sad day for the city of Vancouver,” he said. Chaudhry, who is now 22, credits his school’s liaison officer with keeping him out of gang life.
“I know it’s not just my life that’s been changed, there are many lives out there that we can say have been changed by school liaison officers,” Chaudhry said, adding that the VSB missed an opportunity for students to mend a “broken relationship” with police.
But Chaudhry says the fight is not over.
“I think we are going to continue to make sure that we can get the program back in there so that it can works for all students,” he said.