Schools need their police liaison officers back, Greater Victoria teachers say.
In a letter to the Township of Esquimalt and the Victoria Police Department, the Greater Victoria Teacher’s Association expressed a concern for their students since the school liaison officers were pulled from their duties in April so that they could be transferred to front line work.
“Already this school year there have been multiple incidents of police being called to our schools,” the letter reads. “Often these calls are in response to students in crisis.”
Jason Gammond, president of the GVTA said so far there have been three separate incidents where elementary school students had to be escorted from school properties by police due to violent behaviour. He could not confirm if the incidences all involved the same students.
“Here the police are unfamiliar to the student. Had they been familiar with that officer, maybe they would have been able to mitigate the situation,” Gammond said. “We see the police as a valuable resource, the fact that with their interactions with the students they can build relationships and trust. …We’d welcome them into the school and they’d bring a positive, friendly vibe that’s a great way to segue into more serious discussions.”
The decision to pull liaisons came from Victoria Police Chief Const. Del Manak after VicPD’s budget request for six more officers was turned down, twice, by the Esquimalt portion of the Victoria Police Board. The board consists of two lawyers, two mediators, two educators, a representative of the Royal Canadian Legion, a CRD representative, and municipal representation from Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.
Manak said his request for six more officers would help meet growing needs in the community. The board agreed to the 2018 budget request, with the exception of Desjardins who felt that any potential benefits from the $94,000 portion Esquimalt would pay were not clearly outlined.
Since then, the decision has been put to the province for review, with the possibility of having it overturned. The VicPD 2019 provisional budget has been put forward to the board asking for an additional five officers and one civilian staff member.
While Desjardins didn’t approve of the 2018 budget, she thought a different approach could have been taken by Manak, and was firm that the pulling of the liaison officers was not the fault of Esquimalt.
“That was an operational decision made by the chief,” she said. “The liaison position was a preventative role. As a Police Board member and Esquimalt council member, I expressed significant concern with taking away that position.”
Desjardins followed by saying having the GVTA letter directed to Esquimalt, and not Victoria, was a “misdirected” move, since the Township won’t be able to review any budget possibilities until March.
For teachers, the important matter isn’t political disagreements, but rather the significance of the role to youth.
“Manak said that they were redirecting staff to front line work, but there are 20,000 youth in the Victoria School District, this is the front line,” Gammond said. “It’s been three months so far. It’s hard to say what the long term ramifications are.”
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