Good cop, future cop

Const. Michael Rampone, a member of the Penticton RCMP Indigenous Policing Services section, pictured in March 2021 with local student Summer Paige, who took it upon herself to teach classmates about how to become an officer.

Police officers are still welcome in local schools, despite B.C.’s human rights commissioner calling for a rethink of similar programs.

The commissioner last week issued an open letter to all B.C. school trustees suggesting they immediately suspend police liaison programs that put officers inside schools, citing potential harm to racialized students.

Trustees on the board of School District 67 appreciate the concerns raised in the letter, but have decided to continue with the local program because it’s more informal than those found in larger centres, according to chair James Palanio.

School District 67’s program just launched earlier this month, he explained, and is composed of a handful of RCMP officers who have essentially adopted local middle and secondary schools in addition to their regular duties.

“This is not embedded, full-time support, but is being provided by front-line officers who expressed a desire to be part of this program,” said Palanio.

“To reiterate, it is not an embedded (school liaison officer) program, but is reliant on front-line officers who are working to be a main point of contact to proactively establish positive relationships with our schools.”

Nonetheless, continued Palanio, the board is “sensitive to the issues raised by the human rights commissioner” and “will continue to discuss how these supports look in our schools in partnership with the RCMP and our students, parents, and school communities.”

The letter penned by commissioner Kasari Govender came ahead of a vote by the Vancouver School Board on a motion that reinstated a “revised and reimagined” version of the program in public schools after it was ended last year.

Govender says Indigenous, Black and other marginalized students, as well as their parents and communities, have raised significant concerns about the harm caused by having police in schools.

She says a study last year concluded that there’s little research on Canadian programs but those in the United States have been found to make marginalized students feel less safe, contributing to a sense of criminalization.

With files from The Canadian Press