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New Westminster schools, NWPD forge new partnership

Taking police liaison officers out of schools hasn't made them unsafe, SD40 says.
NWPD car
The New Westminster school district says schools remain safe and its relationship with the NWPD remains collaborative, one year after the board voted to take police liaison officers out of schools.

Not having police liaison officers in schools hasn’t harmed the New Westminster school district’s relationship with the NWPD — and it hasn’t made schools unsafe.

Maureen McRae-Stanger, director of instruction and the safe schools coordinator for School District 40, brought that message to trustees at their May 10 education committee meeting.

“New West Schools and NWPD are committed to working in partnership to prioritize and support student and staff safety at all of our school sites,” she said. “Our access to police support has gone very smoothly this year and has been both timely and effective.”

It’s been more than a year since the New Westminster school board voted to cancel the child and youth liaison officer (CYLO) program that had been run in partnership with the New Westminster Police Department.

The April 2021 decision arose from growing global concerns over systemic racism in policing and the impact that police presence in schools has on racialized communities, in particular Black and Indigenous students and staff.

Prior to the pandemic, three officers had been assigned to duties in local schools: one at New Westminster Secondary School, one for the district’s elementary and middle schools, and one for its alternate programs and additional community support.

But McRae-Stanger told trustees the services provided by those officers haven’t been lost to the school district.

SD40, NWPD create plan for communication, support

She said the district and the NWPD have come up with a new communication and support plan that allows the district to call on police for help with both emergency and non-emergency situations, as well as for support on a variety of fronts related to education and intervention.

McRae-Stanger noted the procedure for emergencies hasn’t changed; school administrators still call 911 for any immediate medical emergencies or threats to safety.

They use the NWPD’s non-emergency line for any “concerning but not emergent” issues that might arise at school or be brought up by students, staff or parents — issues such as traffic, false alarms, support for students who’ve gone off-site, or the suspicious presence of unfamiliar cars around schools.

From September 2021 to April 2022, the school district made two 911 calls from two different schools and a further 38 calls to the non-emergency line across eight different schools, she said.

When school administrators want police support for other issues — such as educational programs, prevention- or intervention-related assistance for students, or training — those requests are forwarded through McRae-Stanger.

McRae-Stanger noted she has a “very collaborative” relationship with Insp. Diana McDaniel at the NWPD, and together the two determine when and how to provide police assistance, when appropriate.

Police in schools for safety presentations, lockdown drills

New Westminster police officers have been called on for a range of reasons this year, she said — including presentations on internet safety and Halloween safety, a Violence Threat Risk Assessment (conducted when a student is believed to be a potential risk to other students or staff), support for lockdown drills at New Westminster Secondary School, and two reports of potentially worrisome online behaviour.

So far this year, the district has not made any referrals to the police gang prevention unit, McRae-Stanger said, but that also remains an option when the need arises.

McRae-Stanger said she consults regularly with principals and vice-principals on safety-related issues to make sure they’re not being impacted by the absence of liaison officers.

“We’ve really not felt a sense of gap,” she said. “We definitely have been able to access police supports when we need them in a timely fashion.”

Trustee Dee Beattie, who chairs the education committee, said the update came as welcome news.

“Our decision to bring the CYLO program to an end was a difficult one, and it was not a reflection of the New Westminster Police Department or anyone working for them,” she said. “I’m glad to hear from staff tonight that we still have a collaborative relationship with the police.”

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, jmaclellan@newwestrecord.ca