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Police Services Board to debate cops in schools program on Thursday

FAIZA AMIN | posted Thursday, Jun 15th, 2017

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The future of a controversial Toronto Police program could be decided at a meeting on Thursday.

The Toronto Police Services board is set to consider a motion to suspend the School Resource Officer program, an initiative that has been met with harsh criticism from activists in Toronto’s black community

“Some people may feel safe and comfortable with the police, but our black, indigenous and undocumented students are telling us a lot of really horrible stories about their interactions with the Toronto Police and their schools,” said anti-racism and activist Desmond Cole.

The program sees uniformed police officers placed in schools, with the TPS objective of improving safety, and the relationships between students and police.

Cole spoke out against the SRO program at the police board meeting last month where the vote was deferred to June, saying the officers are intimidating students and it’s time that the program is suspended.

“We hear the stories from community but the police don’t back it up and provide any information,” he explains.

Megan McGarry, the force’s SRO Coordinator, says suspending the program would be a major loss to the schools.

“It’s really upsetting because I know how incredibly proactive it is,” she said.

McGarry, who was a SRO herself for three years at 13 division, says the program allows for officers to build relationships with students.

“There is no way they’d talk to me on the streets, but in the hallway they could talk to me,” she explains. “They could come up to me and they could say, ‘hey this is going on.’”

The SRO program was implemented following the 2008 shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners at a school in North York.

There are currently 37 resource officers stationed at 66 schools throughout Toronto and within the French, English, Catholic and public school boards.

According to Toronto Police, from 2015-2017 there were six complaints against SRO’s. Two were informally resolved, two others were withdrawn, one was unfounded and in another, an officer was disciplined.

Mayor John Tory, who sits on the police board, says he doesn’t want to see a hasty decision made.

“I will say, I’ve heard some concerns expressed about the officers being in the schools and how that impacts what is meant to be the byproduct and that is positive police community relations.”

A review of the program is currently underway as a third party looks at whether or not SROs are effective.

While Tory admits the program has garnered negative attention from some, he says removing it without a review would be the wrong thing to do.

“I think it would be less than responsible for people to just move now on the basis of their own feelings about it to abolish the program, before we conducted a proper review that hears from all sides.”

The review is expected to be released in August.

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