Some Montreal high schools located in parts of the city that have recently been touched by crime and gun violence could soon see a new intervention team in their hallways, the city of Montreal and its police service announced Thursday.
The project — a division with the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), called Équipe-école (the school team) — involves 10 members, including three specialized police officers, psychosocial workers, criminologists and a specialist in cybercrime.
The team is expected to be deployed by this fall. It will be working with teens in select schools and implementing measures with the goal of preventing gun violence, the city said in a news release, including working on establishing prevention programs on various online platforms.
The team will also be working alongside community organizations to provide intervention support to youth on the ground who exhibit violent behaviour or who are at risk of committing or being subjected to violence.
The creation of the team is one of the commitments made by the SPVM following a forum held last winter to determine solutions to the growing problem of gun violence in the city — a problem that led to a shooting in July that killed two teens, aged 17 and 18, and another that left a 16-year-old in critical condition last month.
Deputy police chief Vincent Richer says the focus is on schools because addressing violence early on is the best way to stop kids from going down the wrong path in the future.
"[It's] the best moment for us to have an impact on the later life of these youth not to come into violence … and to give them different avenues instead," he said.
Alain Vaillancourt, Montreal's executive committee member responsible for public security, says this new team will go into schools on a request basis if school officials notice a problem among one or more of their students.
"For example, if they feel that there's … things going on as far as violence in the kids and they're worried, the team will come in," he said.
"The idea is to diagnose what's going on, to put an action plan together [and] to provide the resources to everyone who's already in the school."
Quebec's Public Security Ministry is providing the project with more than $4 million in funding over the next three years, while the city of Montreal is providing $400,000.
Isabelle Laport, deputy director of Montréal-Nord community group Un itinéraire pour tous says ending youth violence is a shared responsibility and she welcomes the added expertise the team could bring to her organization.
"To us, this initiative is something that could reinforce what is already being done in our community to prevent violence in youth," says Laport, whose group works closely with Henri-Bourassa High School in the area.
More support, not surveillance: expert
Not everyone thinks the project will fix the situation. In fact, one public security expert thinks it could create problems.
"We're sending police into schools, we're putting kids under surveillance, we're increasing the chances that they end up in the criminal justice system and effectively, we're punishing kids because we didn't give them what they need," said Ted Rutland, a Concordia University professor who studies urban security and policing.
Rutland says the city should take the funding and invest in more community workers, teachers, psychologists and mentors for schools who all have training that is meant specifically to support youth who may be exhibiting signs of violence — often the product of an emotional problem, he says.
"If there are problems in schools, criminologists don't have the background to understand those," he said. "We're putting more people whose job it is to identify criminality and to repress it."
Vaillancourt, however, says this is the opposite of what the program is aiming to do. He says he spoke with a number of community groups before the city launched the project "to reassure them that this team is really to deal with prevention issues, it's not to target youth."
He says the goal is to stop them from running into any issues with the justice system.
For his part, Rutland says the fact the the team, according to the city, will be sharing information they observe in schools with police operations on the outside is enough to raise alarms.
"If our goal is to support people, then you don't send police — not because they're inherently terrible, but because that's not what they're trained to do."