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Hamilton Police Liaison program axed in a wave of anti-police sentiment

What started out as a review of the Police Liaison program by Hamilton Wentworth District School Board quickly escalated into the outright cancellation of the program propelled by the explosion of anti-police sentiment across North America. The vote at the board meeting yesterday was overwhelming with only trustees Kathy Archer (Ward 6), Becky Buck (Wards 8,14) and Paikin-Miller (Ward 5) voting against cancellation. Both student trustees Cameron Prosic and Ahona Medhi spoke with passion about the intimidation racialized students experience with a uniformed police presence, and their comments appeared to carry weight with some trustees.

In voting to cancel the program trustees went beyond a staff report that had only recommended pausing the police liaison program while a review was undertaken with a due date in October. The staff recommendation read in part: “Staff supports a pause of the Police Liaison Program during the review process because we have learned that the program might have evolved beyond its intended community policing model and as a result, many of our black and racialized students and families have stated it is having a negative impact on their well-being in our schools. The Hamilton Police Services supports the review and is looking forward to participating in an evidenced-based review process.”

Jubilant HWDSB students celebrate cancellation of Police Liaison program CBC photo

But events had moved quickly in the last week and at a meeting of the Rights & Equity Community Advisory Committee last Tuesday the committee voted unanimously to ask the board to cancel the program outright. An amendment by Trustee Dawn Danko that was also approved last night left the door open to continuing a dialogue with police to determine if there could still be a future role for police and the schools. She warned of “unintended consequences” of cancellation. Trustee Penny Deathe said, in voting for cancellation, “I hope we don’t regret this.” Trustee Felix-Miller  said ”There is no good faith in this program, it is time to step up and tell people who have been hurt by this program that we hear them.”

The program consisted of 11 School Liaison Officers whose functions included:

• conduct pro-active policing by patrolling elementary and secondary school premises (at principal

request), property and nearby locations where students congregate.

• facilitate child and youth related presentations;

• participate in special events and meetings at assigned schools; and

• counsel and advise students on police-related matters.

The officers’ daily routines included: administrative details, school presentations, school visits, school meetings, school investigations, restorative/diversion referrals, school lockdown drills, patrol secondment, youth referred investigations not related to school incidents, training, conferences and workshops. The school liaison officers attend their designated schools approximately 50% of their scheduled shifts and 50% in the community assisting with youth related events, issues, concerns and investigations.

Even with the cancellation, Police will continue to attend schools to address ongoing crimes and incidents.

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