The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) is ending its school resource officer (SRO) program at all of the city's school boards, following a decision from the largest board to cut ties with police.
Last week, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) voted to "immediately and completely" end its involvement with the program, where officers are assigned to schools to provide advice and counselling and to deal with any criminal activity.
Given that the board made up about half of the program, "we have made the decision that we will also discontinue the overall program," Chief Peter Sloly told reporters during a media availability Monday.
Sloly said the OPS would be redirecting resources to neighbourhood patrols and the sexual and partner assault units, among other initiatives
He said ending the SRO program gives police "the opportunity to redeploy some of those resources into those areas that we have demands on that we committed to in last year's budget and that we committed to our community partners."
However, even though the SRO program is ending, Sloly assured that "the requirement for officers to respond to schools is still there."
"There will still be crimes and public safety issues that happen in and around schools that require police services to be called," Sloly said, including "mass attack, mass casualty and other school lockdown procedures."
Sloly defends program
There's been long and tense debate about the role of Ottawa police in city schools.
A motion to end the program at two schools within the OCDSB was first tabled last year by trustee Lyra Evans.
A recent report from the school board's human rights and equity adviser identified a number of concerns identified by high school students, parents, staff and both current and past SROs.
The report noted "each consultation highlighted vivid examples where this policy has worsened the relationships of various stakeholders — students, parents, and members of the wider community — with the police."
Social justice group Asilu Collective, which includes current and former Ottawa high school students, has called for the removal of police officers from schools, saying their presence makes students of colour and those who are "gender-oppressed" feel scared and anxious.
On Monday, Sloly defended the program, saying "there's no doubt there have been challenges and there have been disappointments but overall, it's a healthy program. It has served the OCDSB and the other three boards extremely well."
Regardless, OPS will have an ongoing commitment to provide services that "support our youth, prevent them from getting into trouble and advance their community safety and well-being" Sloly said.
Sloly said police will be developing a new strategy to redeploy officers involved in the SRO program more broadly in the community.