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U of A research to take nationwide perspective on school resource officer program


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U of A research to take nationwide perspective on school resource officer program

A University of Alberta criminologist is examining the role of school resource officers in the country over the last four decades.A police officer directs students from Central Technical School in Toronto as they were finally released after being in lockdown for most of the afternoon as gun shots were fired at the school in Toronto…

U of A research to take nationwide perspective on school resource officer program

A University of Alberta criminologist is examining the role of school resource officers in the country over the last four decades.

A police officer directs students from Central Technical School in Toronto as they were finally released after being in lockdown for most of the afternoon as gun shots were fired at the school in Toronto in 2010. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

A University of Alberta criminologist is examining the role of school resource officers in the country over the last four decades.

There has never been a proper review on the impact the officers have had in Canadian schools, said Temitope Oriola. 

«In the Canadian context, we don’t have as robust data as we should have,» Oriola said in an interview with Edmonton AM on Tuesday.

Much of the Canadian research into their role has focused on only one or two jurisdictions, he said.

The SRO program places uniformed police officers in schools and has been used in various school divisions across Canada dating back to 1979.

Oriola’s research will delve into the evolution of public support for the program.

Edmonton Public Schools recently suspended its SRO program for the new school year after members of the public urged the school board to end it.

An independent evaluation of the program in Edmonton was approved in June and will continue to move forward. Meanwhile, Edmonton Catholic Schools will continue with the program this year.

Oriola praised Edmonton Public Schools’ decision to suspend the program, calling it long overdue and necessary for the sake of an independent review.

«The hope is that whatever decision is eventually made about the SRO program will be informed by facts rather than emotions and politics,» he said.

Oriola plans to speak with a nationally-representative group of voices including current high school students and graduates from throughout the past several decades.

He also wants to speak with parents and advocates on either side of the issue, saying he was fascinated by public discussions around the program earlier this summer.

While evidence in Canada is lacking, research into SROs in the United States shows the program can lead to more arrests for discretionary issues like disorderly conduct and more arrests of socioeconomically marginalized or ethnic minority students, Oriola said.

But Oriola also points out that past research has shown more than half of Toronto District School Board students said they had a positive experience with the school-based officers.

«This becomes a conundrum of some kind,» Oriola said. «The efficacy of the SRO program, its relevance and its utility seem to be a function of who you are.»

J.K. Donlevy, an education professor at the University of Calgary, criticized the removal of SROs from Edmonton Public Schools, arguing it removed a safety element affecting thousands of students, all based on anecdotal evidence.

Officers now find themselves in more heavy-handed roles coming into schools as opposed to being part of the school culture itself, Donlevy said.

«You move from being a preventative, proactive individual on site, to saying that this particular institution will now be only reactionary,» said Donlevy, who published a study on SROs earlier this year called Alberta’s Urban Schools: The Perspectives of School Resource Officers.

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Donlevy argued the program shouldn’t be removed until an independent study into the program is complete.

In Edmonton Public Schools, the SRO program will be replaced with a newly developed Youth Enhanced Deployment model where police officers will be assigned to geographic areas of the city rather than specific schools, and officers trained to respond to youth will answer calls in the school and community.

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