VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As B.C. finds itself in the midst of a spate of reckless violence tied to gangs, a retired Vancouver Police detective is questioning the Vancouver School Board’s decision to end its 50-year School Liaison Officer program.
Doug Spencer believes police officers play an important role in helping students and without liaisons on school grounds, gangs could recruit more kids.
In late April, the Vancouver School Board voted to end the police liaison program by the time students returned from their summer break. The program was put under review last year in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Trustees in favour of eliminating the program said police presence in schools has a negative impact on BIPOC and other marginalized students, who are more likely to see armed officers as a threat than a source of protection or support.
Since the program came to a halt, many police officers have found the news disappointing.
Now, as gang violence is heightened in the province, Spencer says he’s worried we’ll see the kind of violence he saw when Vancouver’s school liaison program was stopped briefly in the late ’90s.
“Over the next two or three years, what resulted in the kids recruited in Vancouver schools, is that I attended so many funerals I can’t even tell you.”
He says it’s vital that kids get accurate information about the dangers of gangs and how they could be recruited without even knowing.
“The everyday goings-on at a school, to not have an officer there to deal with all of that stuff — there’s kids that are suicidal, there are kids stuck on drugs; you got all this stuff going on, where police are there as a resource to direct them towards the professionals and the health care workers and the social workers they need — and that’s gone.”
Previously, the province would focus on apart of addressing criminality through education and prevention in schools, but a statement from Vancouver school trustee Carmen Cho says, “The Board recognizes that there is work to be done.”
“We will establish communication protocols and points of contact in the event of school emergencies, lockdowns, critical incidents and Violent Threat Risk Assessments. Gang deterrence continues to be of utmost importance, and trustees, with staff, will be engaging with police services, community groups and other resources in the coming months,” Cho adds.
Meanwhile, in Surrey, the Safe Schools program has a number of different staff to support youth, and RCMP officers are not stationed at any schools.
“When we talk about our Safe Schools response in Surrey, certainly the RCMP play a valuable role in it, but they’re not the only piece. In fact, the only people we have stationed in every secondary school are Safe School Staff, and they’re more aligned along the skillset of a youth care worker,” Rob Rai the Director of School and Community Connections, Surrey School District says.
Rai says no matter who a young person works with, the important thing is they have a strong mentor available to them.
“When we talk about young people and a lot of these people that are involved in gang violence, I’ve seen them grow up since they were 10 or 12 years old,” Rai says.
“If you had a healthy role model who was there to say, ‘Whoa, I don’t know what you were up to there, you might want to reconsider that,’ I know a lot of young people would say, ‘I think you’re right.’
– With files from Lisa Steacy