Reviewing School Resource Officers – Ward 33 E-Blast June 22nd

It is now 10:15pm on Wednesday night. Last Thursday night, the Police Services Board meeting ran late into the evening and ended in an eruption of outrage and protest. The very next day I started writing an e-blast to try to explain to you, dear readers, what had happened. Every day since, I’ve started a new draft, struggling to get it right.

My first draft was a chronology that started when I joined the Police Board in December of 2014 and described what state the TPSB was in when the Mayor and I walked in. The draft sounded selfish and blaming as if I thought the screaming at last week’s meeting that you saw on the news was not at all my fault.

Because the big issue last week was ‘School Resource Officers’, a program of stationing police officers in schools, I tried another draft chronology. This time I started on May 23, 2007, the day 15 year old Jordan Manners was shot at the end of an empty hallway in a Toronto high school. I thought of his mother whom I’ve seen but never spoken with, not wanting to invade her privacy. I googled a picture of her son for this article and suddenly broke down at the sight of his young face.

Jordan Manners

When I went back to the writing the next day, it got very long as I added entries about Carding. I remembered while reviewing news clippings, that the investigative journalism into Carding only began because of G20. It had come to light that over 500 young people had been questioned on the streets, their information added to a secret police database the young subjects could not access. The Toronto Star then began to uncover the Carding that happened every day for more marginalized communities. If not for that G20 weekend, would the controversial practice still exist today, complete with Carding quotas for officers to achieve and no accountability? I put the iPad down and had another little cry.

Yesterday, with my e-blast deadline looming, I realized that I couldn’t do a timeline. To reflect the pain in our community that gets expressed at the TPSB at most meetings, I’d have to start long ago and continue to this very week. The coroner’s inquest continues into the death of Andrew Loku, a man shot by police on July 4, 2015. At one point, the jury was excused so that the parties could argue over the right to even raise the question of whether racism played a role in the rapid decision to open fire on Loku.

In the end, I don’t have the right to appoint myself the role of chronicler of it all. I am painfully aware of my privileged white suburban upbringing during these protests at the TPSB. This most recent meeting was particularly poorly set up to go as badly as it did. It would be more useful if I appointed myself responsible for that. I’m neither Chair nor Chief but I could have predicted for them how the meeting would unfold.

Having police officers stationed in schools and calling them School Resource Officers (SROs) was controversial from the minute the arrangement was made between the School Boards and Former Police Chief Blair in 2008. Some parents protested, some parents applauded the idea. Trustees fought over it. The opposition has never gone away.

When one of our Board members said he intended to move that the Chief of Police remove our SROs from schools we should have begun preparations for a fair meeting. Instead,  principals mostly from the TCDSB, organized students and bused them in to praise the SROs from their schools. Four SROs registered to speak as public delegates, 2 of them in full uniform, even though a staff presentation on the SRO program had already been given on their behalf. On a list of 75 registered deputants, the above were placed at the front of the list. Those who wished to speak against somehow all managed to be at the end of the list and made to wait outside the boardroom.

Leftover community members wait outside while the Board Room is packed with uniforms and school board presenters.

The pre-arranged pro-SRO speakers and police officers filled every seat in the auditorium. No arrangements were made for a television in the outer room where members of the media and pro-removal speakers waited hours for their turns. It was a recipe for deep feelings of anger and oppression. We did a terrible job of demonstrating sensitivity for both sides of a contentious matter. The Board needs to deal with meeting management in such situations before this issue returns to the agenda in August.

The pleas, late in the evening, from those who want SROs removed from schools went unanswered. I agree 100% with the protesters that the SRO program, if it oppresses or discourages some students from completing high school, should be changed. Even in the schools where officers are popular, one could make the argument that the activities they are engaged in could be delivered by the education system. The problem is there is a huge split in the community on this issue and I have a duty to hear that side as well.

When such a split occurs, a Board of Management really has no choice but to gather evidence on both sides, scan all that has already been written and make an educated decision. Protesters screamed that the program has already been reviewed. That isn’t exactly correct. I’ve looked. Reports have been written by those who dislike officers being in schools and I agree with the positions in them. However, reports have also been written to declare the SRO program a success.

TPSB member, Ken Jeffers, moved that a timely review be done of the SRO program but that this time the review begin with a Board panel setting the terms of reference for the work. The terms can be balanced such that this latest review cannot be a one-sided statement. I know that waiting for this work will be like a dagger through the heart for some but there is something members have to keep in mind at a Board table:

Count your votes before they are cast. That way leads to success. Votes of members on any board are unpredictable when an ugly controversy is put before them on the fly. Creating the documents to make the proper case for change can move votes and get you where you want to go. And we do have to get where we want to go. To where our children don’t feel the heavy weight of oppression when they are supposed be learning but instead, the friendship, trust, and mentorship of all authority figures in their young lives.

The biggest difference in kids lives at Jordan Manners’ school is new principal, Monday Gala.