Pulling Back the Curtain on the SRO Program
by James Campbell
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)
Many parents, teachers, school administrators, and especially students were surprised to see the headlines in late-June announcing not only the renewal, but the expansion of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.
The surprise came from the fact that there had been no final public evaluation of last year’s pilot program which saw armed and uniformed police officers stationed in Toronto schools as part of a partnership agreement between the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Toronto Police Services (TPS).
Not only had there been no final report on how well the program achieved its goals – a standard part of any renewal process for a publicly funded project – there had been no further consultation with parents, students, teachers, or even many administrators in the effected schools. The surprise was greater still because the interim report on the SRO program issued last January indicated that violent incidents were up in schools with SROs.
The biggest surprise, however, came to a group of parents, teachers, and students in Ward 4 (York West). In one of the rare community consultations last November, these parents and students organized and overwhelmingly told their Trustee, Stephanie Payne, that they did not want Toronto Police in their schools (which include C.W. Jeffrey’s and Westview). Despite no further public consultations, Trustee Payne unilaterally changed her mind about the SRO program and requested police be stationed in all the high schools in her ward.
Many of these issues were raised again at the August 27th meeting of the TDSB where three Trustees (Sheilagh Cary-Meagher, Ward 16; Maria Rodrigues, Ward 9; and Irene Atkinson, Ward 7) put forward a motion asking for a report on the program and its impact on schools. The motion came after the Newly Organized Coalition Opposing Police in Schools (NOCOPS) – a coalition of parents, students and teachers – along with the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC) presented serious objections to the program to the board in May.
NOCOPS and TPAC had presented Trustees with documents outlining a variety of concerns and objections from teachers, parents, students and concerned citizens. These documents included reports of the assault and harassment of students by SRO officers; statistical data about the historical failure of most SRO programs; concerns about the further criminalization of our most marginalized youth; concerns about the lack of community consultation; and concerns about how the SRO program directly ignores the very specific recommendations made by two lavishly public-funded reports which outlined the steps necessary to make our schools safer for parents, students, and teachers.
Neither the “Falconer Report” nor the McMurty/Curling Report on the Roots of Youth Violence recommended putting police in schools. Both, however, spoke about the urgent need to increase the amount of youth workers, social workers, and hall monitors. The amount of money spent by the province on supplying schools with armed police officers would allow the TDSB to finally follow through on all of the recommendations of the two reports.The motion put forward at the August 27th meeting was postponed until the results of a survey (designed and conducted by the Police themselves) are published in December.
What became immediately clear from the discussion at the board is that very little is publicly known about the SRO program and that in accepting police officers with very little oversight, control, or consultation, the TDSB and Trustees are blindly accepting the direction of the police. The debate amongst Trustees showed that few people in the board can clearly articulate the goals of the program or detail what benefits the TDSB and students get for the amount of money being spent.
Several Trustees very clearly see the role of the Board to help the police implement a program designed primarily to help the Police, and not students or their communities. In chillingly Orwellian language, they referred to this as an “Integrated Service Delivery” program, though no one chose to explicitly state what service is being delivered to whom.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that while there are some Trustees who see the dangerous and damaging implications of schools choosing to “integrate service delivery” with the police, most are happy to play along.
What is also becoming increasingly clear is that the change will not come from within the Board. What is required is a public education and mobilization campaign amongst students, parents, and teachers from a variety of communities to put pressure on their local Trustees.
The next opportunity for public mobilization will come this winter when the police release the results of the survey (one which they themselves collected and whose findings they will control). This means that over the next three months anyone concerned about the increasing occupation of schools by the Toronto Police Service will need to build on the remarkable work already being done in a variety of communities across the city.