Review of program that puts police officers in Regina schools underway

The school resource officer program has been running for more than 40 years in Regina. A review is being conducted over the next couple of weeks. (Alec Salloum/CBC News - image credit)
The school resource officer program has been running for more than 40 years in Regina. A review is being conducted over the next couple of weeks. (Alec Salloum/CBC News - image credit)

A review of the Regina school resource officer (SRO) program —which puts police officers in schools — is underway, with open houses for students, parents and community members beginning this week.

The program has been running for 43 years and operates as a partnership between the school divisions and the Regina Police Service.

There are 14 total officers assigned to all Regina high schools and elementary schools. One sergeant oversees the program.

In 2020, some students, parents and community members in Regina called for the program to be cut.

The city's school divisions hired Praxis Consulting to conduct the review, along with open houses and an online survey.

"The SRO Program Review will provide an assessment of the program, including its strengths and challenges," the school divisions said in a statement. "It will also gather insight and perspectives on how the program can meet the future needs of schools and the community."

This first of six open houses was held at Harbour Landing and St Kateri Tekakwitha schools on Tuesday night. The rest are scheduled over the next week.

"It's really to do a bit of an evaluation of the program. What's working, what's not working and what things need to be tweaked to make it better. We're constantly hearing positive feedback from school administrators, staff and students," Regina Police Chief Evan Bray said Tuesday.

Reviews of resource officer programs happening across the country

School resource officer programs have been under the microscope in Canada in recent years.

In 2017, Toronto School Board trustees voted 18-3 in favour of cancelling a program that had started in 2008 and saw armed officers in 36 schools.

Charlottetown, P.E.I., cancelled its program in 2022 because of a lack of staffing.

The Edmonton Catholic School division hired criminology professors from Carleton University to study its program and in 2022, the division said results supported the program continuing.

Last October, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report, titled Safer Schools Without Policing Indigenous and Black Lives in Winnipeg, calling for an end to school resource officers in Winnipeg.

It included accounts from 24 students, 13 parents or legal guardians and two informants. They suggest the presence of police in schools causes harm and compounds discrimination students of colour already face from peers and school staff.

In 2021, two Winnipeg School Divisions ended their SRO programs.

"I recognize that not everybody loves the program and sometimes people don't feel safe having a police officer at their school," Bray said on Tuesday.

"What can we do to kind of ease that tension that might exist for a small number of people and build strength in the program that everybody does feel safe."

Kirk Fraser/CBC
Kirk Fraser/CBC

When asked if he thinks the program allows young people to see a positive image of policing, Bray said "I absolutely do."

"I think that's what it's set to do is to build relationships, to find alternate ways to make sure that schools are safe and that justice prevails without always having to resort to making an arrest."

He said the program allows for collaboration, to recognize when behaviour "might be destructive and could be harmful to other students."

Police shouldn't be in schools, prof. says

Alex Da Costa, an associate professor in education at the University of Alberta, said police officers do not belong in schools.

"I'm not saying reviews should be improved. Reviews shouldn't be happening at all. We should remove police from schools and choose other proven methods to create healthy and equitable schools."

In 2022, Da Costa co-authored a study that looked at the SRO program in Edmonton over a 10-year period. Da Costa also analyzed the Edmonton Catholic Schools review of the SRO program. He said reviews of SRO programs by school divisions often ignore the issues of racism.

"For a study to be happening in the last five or six years that does not look at racism, disability, or anti-Indigenous racism, it's inexcusable."

Da Costa said the framing and premise of such reviews often miss the mark.

"The question should be why do we have police in schools at all, and what else instead of police can we do to make healthy and equitable schools?" he said.

"We have a lot of research that shows the benefits of police in schools are questionable in terms of education."

He said its important to question the surveys and open forums are being conducted.

"To what degree are they translating materials or making them culturally appropriate? What is being done to guarantee people feel safe giving their perspective, especially if they have a counter perspective to the dominant line which is the program is good?"

Da Costa said SRO programs bill themselves as a way to promote positive attitudes toward police officers, but that this should not be the school's responsibility.

"What is the goal of that in relation to education? It is a police institutional goal."

Da Costa said school divisions can create safe schools without the presence of police by hiring counselors and social workers, and offering training to teachers.

He said the current model, in which police work in the school and get involved in matters, leads to the use of a policing approach and can lead to "mission creep" where "low-level violations" are handled by officers and not school administration.

Da Costa said police services are receiving funding increases, while education funding has not kept pace with needs in schools.