Louis Riel School Division releases 2021 report that ended its police program
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Following more than a year-and-a-half of secrecy, the Louis Riel School Division has finally released a redacted version of the scathing review that prompted its trustees to axe a police-in-schools program.
“At best, the (school resource officer) program is ineffective in its stated goals of ‘building relationships’ and ‘promoting safety and education,’” community researcher Fadi Ennab wrote in the August 2021 report he submitted to the division.
“At worst, the SRO program negatively impacts the school space by making many students and parents feel unsafe and targeted.”
The Winnipeg Police Service has been partnering with the province and metro school divisions to support uniformed and armed officers working in kindergarten-to-Grade 12 buildings since 2002.
The officers duties include making presentations on everything from bullying to gang violence, student and parent consultations, truancy check-ins, restorative justice work and threat assessments.
A recent global reckoning of racial injustice has prompted Winnipeggers to call into question the impact of stationing police in learning facilities.
Several years ago, LRSD administrators hired an anti-racism expert to investigate its program with an equity lens — meaning Ennab prioritized the experiences of families who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of colour because of these communities’ disproportionately negative experiences with policing due to systemic racism.
In total, he collected 3,117 surveys and conducted 30 one-on-one interviews with students, parents and school staff to compile a 55-page document.
About three-quarters of interviewees, including all Black and Indigenous students, parents and teachers, indicated they felt the program had a negative impact on equity-seeking groups. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents supported police involvement.
“If I see a police officer, I would panic. Even long after the police officer is gone, I would find myself shaking because anything could happen,” said one Black student, according to an interview excerpt in the report.
One parent of a student with a disability alleged school officers facilitate “criminalization, information gathering and targeting of racialized and marginalized groups.”
The report states some participants expressed concern police involvement could escalate minor incidents and suggested it was impossible to separate the SRO program from the violent and ongoing impact of policing in communities at large.
Citing both negative feedback and documented research evidence, Ennab called on the division to terminate the program. The researcher also recommended the LRSD limit police involvement in its schools, collect race-based data on participation and implement processes to evaluate emergency engagement.
“This review shows that police involvement in schools exposes families to further risks, including unwanted and unwarranted police involvement in their lives… (It) infringes on school policies related to safety, inclusion, and educational well-being,” he wrote.
Between 2016 and 2021, a single police officer was stationed across the LRSD, which has 40 schools, although the employee was assigned to primarily Glenlawn Collegiate and Windsor Park Collegiate for several years.
After the board pulled the plug on the program, trustees refused to release the report that informed its decision.
In an October 2021 interview, superintendent Christian Michalik told the Free Press that legal counsel’s advice was to refrain from publishing the document for confidentiality reasons.
A notice on the division’s website states it has consulted with the Manitoba ombudsman and is releasing the redacted report in accordance with its obligations to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
“(The publication of the review) provides another opportunity to consider our individual and collective responsibilities in nurturing a more equitable, safe, inclusive and just community in our schools,” the bulletin states.
The Winnipeg police contract cost the division about $60,000 annually, in addition to $15,000 in office, telephone and supply-related expenses.
Police have repeatedly defended the program, saying the department continues to receive positive feedback on it and officers are making a positive difference.
In an email Friday, WPS noted Ennab’s review is one of many that have been conducted on the program in its more than 20-year history.
An unnamed spokesperson wrote the service values its ongoing partnerships with divisions who continue to participate and supports SROs who have developed “positive and beneficial relationships.”
There are currently 11 such positions in River East Transcona, Pembina Trails, St. James-Assiniboia and Seven Oaks school divisions.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
Updated on Friday, March 17, 2023 4:24 PM CDT: Adds WPS comments