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New West safety forum questions cancellation of school liaison program

Cops in schools? “We want them to know that they can engage with public safety officials.”
As part of the Cooking With Cops program organized by school liaison officers, New West cops worked alongside kids in the kitchen at Lord Kelvin Elementary School in 2018.

The school liaison officer program is still a touchy topic with some community members – two-and-a-half years the program was cancelled in New Westminster.

In April 2021, the school board voted to cancel the longstanding child and youth liaison officer (CYLO) program that it had been running in partnership with the New Westminster Police Department. Its decision came at a time of global concerns about systemic racism in policing and the impact that police officers’ presence in schools may have on racialized communities, in particular Black and Indigenous students and staff.

At a Nov. 8 forum on crime and public safety, a resident asked panellists about the decision to end the program in local schools.

Kash Heed, a Richmond city councillor and a former chief of the West Vancouver Police Department, said there are differences of opinion about these programs, but he personally believes they can be a “very valuable” resource for schools. Noting a “tiered model” for policing or protective services, Heed suggested officials could start thinking “outside of this traditional paradigm” on how to serve their communities.

“In this tiered model of policing or protective services, do you necessarily need a fully trained, armed police officer working in the school system?” he said. “Could we look at something else?”

Prior to the COVID-10 pandemic, the New Westminster Police Department had three officers assigned to local schools – one at New Westminster Secondary School, one for elementary and middle schools, and one for alternate programs and additional community support. A survey of NWSS students found that many supported the program.

Dave Jones, former chief constable of the New Westminster Police Department, said everyone’s opinion should be considered during the decision-making process.

“Everyone has an opinion, and I think they should all be heard,” he said. “But I think when the opinion or the answer is total exclusion, elimination, that's not a discussion.”

Jones said some students thought the program was beneficial and others voiced concern about having police officers in schools.

“My personal opinion is there's a huge benefit,” he said. “We want as many people, whether they're students, whether they're newcomers, whether they're seniors in the community … we want them to know that they can engage with public safety officials.”

Jones left the New Westminster Police Department in 2019 after 37 years, including eight years as chief constable, to take on the job of chief officer of Transit Police. There, he heard from people who questioned why Transit Police officers weren’t standing on every platform, as some people said they’d feel safer with a visible police presence.

“What I did learn, working with MOSAIC, who deals with newcomers to the country, there are some groups who fear the police,” he said at Wednesday’s forum. “In their countries, the police waited at the transportation systems to pick people up. They didn't have cars and buses, they jumped on the train, so seeing the police waiting at the train – the people didn't like that. They were fearful. 'They're here to round us up; they're going to check us for no reason.'”

The point, said Jones, is there needs to be dialogue to figure out how to best deal with people’s concerns.

In April 2021, the Vancouver School board voted to end its school liaison officer program at the end of that school year. In the aftermath of the October 2022 municipal election, it voted to reinstate the program; officers returned to Vancouver schools in a revised version of the program in September 2023 that included some changes to attire and training.