Winnipeg city council has approved the contract for a hotly debated program that places police officers in schools.

Council voted 13 to three on Wednesday to extend the school resource officer program to 2023, which involves 19 officers working in six local school divisions.

Couns. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre), Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) and Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) voted against the extension.

Several delegates had lobbied council to cancel the project, while others pushed for it to continue.

Opponents argued the officers’ presence in schools sparks fear in racialized students that can compromise their educational outcomes, allow them to be over-policed and make them feel less safe.

"The school system, when there is a police officer present, does not afford every child the same sense of safety and freedom to interact … As a mother of two young daughters who are women of colour, I am personally, deeply concerned about the presence of police officers within our schools," said Dorota Blumczynska, a member of the Police Accountability Coalition.

She urged council to reject the proposal, or at least delay the vote to allow for more community consultation.

By contrast, supporters urged council to approve the contract.

Brian O’Leary, chairman of the Metro Superintendents Group, said the officers have built relationships that support students and ensured pupils can safely attend schools following online threats.

"This (program) is not something that any of our principals would ever want to give up," said O’Leary.

Brian O’Leary, chairman of the Metro Superintendents Group, says officers have built relationships that support students and ensured pupils can safely attend schools following online threats. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Brian O’Leary, chairman of the Metro Superintendents Group, says officers have built relationships that support students and ensured pupils can safely attend schools following online threats. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Mayor Brian Bowman expressed his personal support for the program, while noting council doesn’t dictate police operations.

"What I always appreciate seeing in our community is bridge-building … (for police) to have dialogue with people, I think, that helps break down barriers," said Bowman.

The mayor said the contract does require city approval, so the officers would be removed from schools if council had voted against the extension.

Some councillors weren’t convinced the program should continue.

Coun. Santos urged her colleagues to review and re-evaluate it.

She said she felt personally targeted by police and the media recently when she was denied the required security clearance to become a member of the Winnipeg Police Board.

"I was accosted by the media and the Winnipeg Police," said Santos.

Santos noted anonymously leaked information to Global News sparked reports that she was denied the police clearance due to a friendship with someone accused of trafficking cocaine. Santos said she’s since cut ties with that friend and didn’t know about any alleged illegal activity at the time.

On Wednesday, Santos said she’s spent most of her adult life in an "over-policed community" in the North End and alleged she’s seen a pattern of extra law enforcement scrutiny of Indigenous Winnipeggers and people of colour.

In an emailed statement, the Winnipeg Police Service said its officials are listening to opponents of the program and will collaborate to ensure the program "serves the needs of all students, families, and staff."

"We believe police officers have a vital role to play in helping children succeed, and invite the community to engage with us in making that happen," the statement said.

Joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

   Read full biography