Cops in schools normalize law enforcement, do little that couldn’t be done by others

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Police are not your friends

School Resource Officers (SROs) in public schools have been around since the 1970s, but their roots go back to the 1940s when police officers would come to schools to do safety presentations. Although they are called School Resource Officers, they are a branch of the Regina Police Service, making them essentially cops in schools.

Their description on the Regina Police Service website say that SROs “utilize the concept of community policing with officers acting as a resource to faculty, students, parents and community within a school environment.” When asked what this means on a day-to-day basis Regina Public Schools stated that SROs have two roles in the school.

Their first role is a pro-active role in regards to good role-modelling, crime prevention strategies, as well as educating students about the law and informing students about things like the dangers of illegal drug use, internet safety, anti-bullying, etc.

Their second role is a reactive role, which comes in the form of investigating allegations of crime, mediating disputes, and quickly responding to situations that require it, such as situations of violence. Regina Public Schools says that having SROs in their schools, and knowing their schools, “can save precious minutes in reacting to a situation … above and beyond any support that would be normally available by contacting 911 in an emergency.”

Another goal that can be found on the Regina Police Services website is to “develop positive attitudes towards police officers and to develop positive relationships between youth and the police.”

[Editor’s note: The first role could easily – and more effectively – be performed by non-law-enforcement actors such as counsellors, nurses, teachers, and peer support workers. The second role normalizes police intervention in personal disputes and puts students, especially racialized students, at risk of being criminalized for normal adolescent behaviour.]

There are current 14 SROs and one sergeant being utilized in Regina, with one SRO being responsible to each school. When asked, Regina Public Schools stated it has  “a long-standing relationship with the Regina Police Service and has welcomed SROs as part of [their] school community for many years.” They’re described as being “mentors” and “role models” for students, and helpful supports for staff and administration.

When asked about SROs in schools, many students remarked the only time that they saw them was during in-class lectures, like anti-bullying lectures and internet safety. However, for other students they remarked they would see the SROs when they came around monthly with drug sniffing dogs. For many students, they said that they felt safer having police in schools. Other students, however, expressed that having police in schools made them feel distrusted, and that their privacy wasn’t being respected while they were in school.

In comparison to these SROs, Regina Public Schools have 18 counsellors and 6 nurses across their public schools. When asked about the ratio between SROs and counsellors, one student said that there were never enough counsellors, that they were always busy, and that the ones that were available sometimes weren’t helpful. One student remarked that they stopped going to a counsellor when they found out what they thought they were telling a counsellor in confidence was actually being told to their parents right after.

A 2004 report from Public Safety Canada said that SROs were began in an effort “to curb youth crime and ensure the safety of students across Canada.” The question is, are police in schools a long-term solution to youth crime and safety of students? Or could more and better counselling services, as well as community services be a better use of public resources. Despite the fact that SROs are supposed to be a preventative measure, could community action target the root of these issues, better than having police in school would? Would something like a liveable wage, affordable housing, and better mental health services serve families better and help to deter more students from getting into situations where the police need to be involved?

Regina Public Schools swears by its decision to have School Resource Officers in their schools and highly values them alongside their staff and facilitators. However, in 2019 Maclean’s Magazine rated Regina 15th in Canada for worst youth crime rates. This statistic might demonstrate that the SROs are being used more of a reactionary measure in dealing with crime, rather than being a pro-active solution to youth crime rates.

While no one can dispute that having School Resource Officers in schools provides timely responses to situations in schools, it is becoming obvious that more needs to be done in schools to help students so that police are no longer required to be in schools. However, this would require action on a municipal, provincial, and even federal level. Until then, SROs will remain in schools, to assist staff and faculty members in ensuring that students have a safe education.

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