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What's with police in New West schools? Here's a look at what's been decided and what lies ahead

We take a look at some of the questions the School District 40 board is facing as it revamps its relationship with the NWPD following the cancellation of its liaison officer program
A Cooking With Cops program (seen here in a 2018 file photo) was one of the initiatives undertaken by the police liaison officers in schools. The liaison program has been cancelled, but the New West school district and New West police are now setting out the terms of their new relationship.

Police liaison officers are no longer a part of New Westminster schools, but that hasn’t ended the school district’s relationship with the NWPD.

How exactly the two parties will work together going forward, however, is still a work in progress.

New Westminster school trustees voted April 27 to end the child and youth liaison program in schools and to have the district revamp its relationship with the New Westminster Police Department. At the June 8 education committee meeting, trustees heard an update on that work.

Trustee Maya Russell, who chairs the education committee, stressed the decision to cancel the police liaison officer program is final.

“We made a decision to discontinue the program, and our discussion today will not revisit that decision,” she said before opening the floor to questions.

Here are some highlights from the night’s discussion:


What information did the school board use to make its decision?

Russell noted the board has heard some disappointment about the fact that it made the decision to cancel the liaison officer program without finishing a public engagement process and without making public the results of a parent survey.

She said the survey results will be made available.

“I can tell you that the results of that survey, they were strongly in favour of keeping the program,” she said. “The survey, unfortunately, presented significant bias in favour of the status quo, and it did not, in my view, provide new insights to add to the discussion. We know that the majority of people are not negatively impacted by police, so to survey everyone for their views without adequate context allows a majority view to dominate.”

Russell said, in her view, the board had more than enough information to make its decision, especially given the “wealth of academic research” that is available regarding the impact of police in schools on BIPOC communities.

Parent Linda Tobias questioned whether the board had relied on empirical data based on complaints against the New Westminster Police Department.

Russell said the decision was based on research done globally, not as a specific reflection of the NWPD.

“The decision was made based on a whole variety of things; that wasn’t one of them,” she said.


Has the vote to remove police liaison officers harmed the school district's relationship with the NWPD?

Rav Johal, the district principal for equity and inclusion, said the school district remains in a good relationship with the police department.

“Thus far, any time we’ve had any need to contact NWPD, they have responded to our calls. There is a good working relationship between district and school staff as well as the NWPD,” Johal said. “From our angle thus far, we still continue to have a positive, productive relationship.”


Will police officers still remain involved in schools?

Johal said some aspects of policing will always be required in schools. He said developing a new relationship with the NWPD will focus on communication protocols, points of contact and training for emergency procedures (critical incidents, lockdowns and violent-threat risk assessments).

“There are a range of situations where we would be liaising with the NWPD through the non-emergency line and 911,” he said.

The school district is also working on a process for referrals to the police gang prevention unit, which Johal noted will require student and family consent.

“It is intended to be a voluntary program available to support students and families who self-identify as needing help or (who) liaise with school staff and want some support,” he said.

Police officers could still be engaged to provide information sessions in schools, as they have in the past, and Johal noted a process will be established to take requests from schools for such sessions. The district is proposing to have those requests funnelled through the safe schools coordinator (which is one of Johal’s roles).

Johal said the protocols and procedures around all of those areas of work now need to go through the police board before returning to the school board table at a later date.


What kind of information sessions could police officers provide in schools?

In the past, police officers have provided information sessions to students on a number of topics, including issues related to personal well-being, healthy relationships, dating violence, drug education and more.

Trustee Gurveen Dhaliwal suggested the district should set out parameters for which sessions are most appropriate coming from police officers and which might be better offered by another community agency.

“I would like for our teachers to be connected to those, and for us to really lay out who would be the best organization or people to provide those sessions,” she said.

Johal said the district is fortunate in having an extensive list of community partners who are willing to provide presentations in schools.

“It is part of our work to ensure that we are engaging all of our community partners and identifying who might be the best voice to come in and speak with our students,” he said.


Will bringing in police officers cost the school district money?

Trustee Mary Lalji questioned whether the district will now need to pay to bring in police officers to offer presentations or whether any extra costs will be incurred for officers to attend school-based functions such as dances or football games.

Johal said he did not, at this point, have information about costs but would note the questions as part of the continuing discussions between the district and the NWPD.


How will you ensure students can still develop a healthy relationship with police officers?

Parent Linda Tobias asked board members how they will ensure that students develop a sense of safety around police officers.

“I was a refugee to Canada, and I was terrified of police because in my home country, police made people disappear; they took bribes; they were not the good guys, unlike here,” she said. “Of course New West PD very much are here to protect all children.”

She asked trustees how the school district will empower children to feel safe going to police if they need help.

“What are you doing to facilitate that relationship and let them know police can be trusted?” she asked.

Johal said that in the case of “significant safety or wellness concerns,” schools will still be liaising with police via 911 or the non-emergency line.

As far as developing student trust in police, Johal said those are “ongoing conversations” the district will continue to have with students and parents. He said the district wants families to know about the support they can receive, not just from police but from other community agencies as well.

“We want students to have trusted adults that they can follow up and touch base with,” he said.

Russell questioned what role the school district should play in nurturing a relationship between students and police.

“It’s clearly very important work of policing, to make sure that children and young people are comfortable bringing forward issues to the police, but I think what we’re grappling with is where’s the role as educators,” she said. “What we do know is relationships with trusted adults are incredibly important, and we want in our schools to be fostering, ideally, several strong relationships with trusted adults.”

Isabella McDonell, a Student Voice representative from New Westminster Secondary School, took aim at the idea that having police in schools helps to foster healthy bonds with students.

“I don’t really know if having police officers in schools is the best way to communicate to already traumatized children that police officers are a healthy and proper and useful resource for them. Exposure therapy, that fell out of fashion in the ’70s. I don’t know why we think that maybe this may be the best option today,” she said.

“If we really want to communicate specifically that police officers are a helpful resource, we can start in other ways. Putting a police officer in front of an already traumatized child will most likely do nothing.”

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