GuelphToday received the following opinion piece from Matt Jotham, president of the Guelph Police Association.
On April 27 and 28, 2021, respectively, GuelphToday and the Guelph Mercury Tribune published articles in reference to the Upper Grand District School Board’s (UGDSB) decision to discontinue the School Resource Officer (SRO) program in our local secondary schools.
The Guelph Police Association (GPA) finds UGDSB’s decision profoundly disappointing. The SRO program is an important community policing initiative providing Guelph Police Service (GPS) officers and the city’s student population with opportunities to proactively foster positive relationships with one another while helping to deter potential issues before they materialize.
School Resource Officers (SRO’s) are specially-trained police officers committed to ensuring our local schools are healthy and safe environments for students to study, learn and grow. They do not randomly search students’ backpacks or lockers or stand guard within schools to intimidate students.
Students often reach out to their SRO’s for assistance when they have an issue and no one else to turn to. SRO’s provide guidance and support to youth on important life lessons that teenagers often face, such as drug and alcohol abuse, cyber bullying, peer pressure and coping strategies related to issues at home. They are an established part of the school community and often run after-school programs, coach school sports teams, attend graduations and more. Guelph’s SRO program has provided exceptional service to schools throughout the city, making a positive difference in the lives of countless young people.
UGDSB’s rash decision to end the SRO program in Guelph’s secondary schools, without appropriately consulting those involved in the program, is narrow-minded.
The UGDSB did not ask the GPA to be part of the UGDSB’s review other than asking a series of questions to the Executive of the Police Service, include any current or retired members of the GPS on their task force, or consult the GPA regarding any of the proposed recommendations included in the task force’s report prior to effecting this change.
It is also clear that the majority of the Guelph community is not supportive of the school board’s decision. A poll undertaken by GuelphToday as of April 29, 2021, concluded that only 20 per cent of respondents believed SRO’s should be removed from schools entirely. 41 per cent believed the status quo should be maintained with SRO’s in schools, 32 per cent believed the SRO program should be reviewed and improved, and 7 per cent believed SRO’s should be present in our schools but less than they were.
The GPA acknowledges the apprehensions raised by the UGDSB about the presence of SRO’s in schools. Eliminating them will not help improve relations between police officers and students, nor will it help students or their families overcome any concerns they may have about the policing profession. Their concerns need to be heard and addressed; simply removing SRO’s and hoping those concerns will disappear is not a solution.
Police will still be called to attend a school when required, but it now may not involve an officer who is familiar with the administration and/or the student population. Where SRO’s previously had the chance to interact with students and build a level of trust that could be drawn from when handling more serious incidents, this will no longer be the case and students’ perception of their local police personnel could be negatively impacted.
Given the current climate and our collective efforts to make meaningful and evidence-based change surrounding social reform, this program is an important bridge between student communities and the GPS and it should be continued. The GPA believes UGDSB’s recent decision to abruptly remove SRO’s from schools will have long-term impacts on proactive police relations with students, staff and the entire Guelph community.
The Guelph Police Association and our 322 front-line sworn and civilian police personnel members remain committed to engaging with our student populations and supporting their futures as much as we can. As many of us are parents with children in these schools, we will continue to engage with Guelph’s youth and seek ways to connect with them through alternative channels and opportunities.
For over 20 years, the GPA has provided a financial scholarship to one graduating student from each high school in the City of Guelph, as selected by the school, and we are pleased to continue this scholarship program. We are hopeful our ongoing support helps local students achieve success as they enter the next stage of their lives.
Matt Jotham, President
Guelph Police Association