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LETTER: Loss of police liaison officers increase workload at Greater Victoria schools

Parents rally outside the Greater Victoria school board’s office for school liaison officers to return to schools. (Black Press Media file photo)

Ask the front-line stakeholders if school police liaison officers (SPLO) provided value.

Patrol officers do not have the same opportunities to create and build relationships with youth and students that the SPLOs once had. Patrol officers did not receive the additional required training that SPLOs received, namely cultural awareness, approaching youth through sensitivity and diplomacy, and educating youth with a friendly but firm tone.

Since School District 61 removed the SPLOs on May 31, 2023, the schools have been instructed to call the police non-emergency line, instead of the original SPLO. Schools have noted longer wait times without the access to call liaison officers directly. Police non-emergency calls deploy on-duty patrol officers. This adds unfamiliar perspectives to case files, with little or no knowledge of the school, student, family, and situation. This prevents a holistic approach, where our SD61 families and students are now experiencing added stress and fear, due to threats of violence, humiliation, intimidation, blackmailing, robberies, physical violence, drug use, gang recruitment and extortion. If SPLOs remain removed from our schools, what will the next couple years look like when we have more data (Saanich: 12% increase in youth violence-related police incidents between September - December 2023)? What will the relationship between students, their families and police officers look like if we cannot come together to work on solutions to concerns around police in schools?

There absolutely is a need for liaison officers in schools. SPLOs developed relationships with students, their families and school administrators. They spoke to students about life choices and potential consequences. They offered alternatives to students to keep them out of the judicial system.

SPLOs worked with students, their families, administrators, and school counselors offering advice, perspective, and collaboration to divert worrisome behaviours. There was a holistic relationship for students, their families, and all community members.

The workload that the SPLOs provided for free to the district in SD61 has now been put on to school administrators to navigate. Administrators are required to outsource what was once a free service, which uses extra time and presents budget constraints at a time when fiscal room is razor thin.

Administrators are now less able to respond to situations the way they feel appropriate. Instead of calling liaison officers directly to get guidance, they are forced to make a tough decision on every incident with students and decide if the incident is criminal enough to warrant a call to the police. Administrators already have their hands full with ongoing tasks, while offering ongoing supports to students. They should not be given the additional task of trying to figure out how and where they are going to find an organization that may have to be paid, to offer similar services that an SPLO offered for free.

Frankly, there is nothing that can replace education through a trauma-informed, liaison officer’s lens.

Lori Poppe