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Gang worries have Island parents lobbying for return of police liaison

Parents rally at Greater Victoria’s school board’s office for the return of school liaison officers

Honking vehicles and voices exclaiming the need for police presence in schools could be heard from outside the Greater Victoria school board’s office last week.

The Greater Victoria School District (SD61) board hasn’t had a school police liaison officer (SPLO) since the end of May 2023 and a collective of twelve parents and students protested for their return on Feb. 26.

“It’s extremely important to have (SPLOs) in schools because these officers are able to connect to youth and help divert worries and behaviours,” said Lori Poppe a member of Parents and Police Together.

The mother is worried about gang activity in Greater Victoria schools. Sharing the same concerns, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak made statements about the increased gang activity in SD61 during a meeting that followed the rally. VicPD has not had a SPLO since 2018.

“Most schools in the Greater Victoria area have students involved in these gang-initiated trafficking schemes and just last month we made our first arrest of a gang-affiliated member who was actively recruiting youth in parking lots across from a number of schools, during the school day,” said the Chief in a statement from the meeting.

“This is just one person of many who has been observed and we continue to work on targeting these activities.”

The SPLO program ended after budget shortfalls, but Manak as a former officer himself is insisting that the program be restarted.

“Police in schools are a direct deterrent to gang involvement and other concerning, criminal or violent activity that targets and impacts vulnerable youth,” said Manak.

Oak Bay Police concurred with VicPD expressing they were disappointed to see the cancellation of the police program.

“Early intervention is something that allows us to engage and provide support at the earliest possible opportunity, which in many cases can keep youth out of the criminal justice system,” Chief Constable Mark Fisher told Black Press Media in a statement. “Community policing is a core piece of our service delivery model and having that ability for SPLOs to build strong relationships with students and staff makes for a stronger and safer community.”

B.C.’s human rights commissioner recommended 2022 ending the school officer programs until their impact could be established empirically. The recommendation called on school boards wanting to keep the programs in place to provide independent evidence of the need for service offered by police that civilian alternatives couldn’t provide.

Manak called out the SD61 addressing the job SPLOs had in schools and how other providers have not filled those roles.

“They (SPLOs) have not been replaced with social workers, counsellors, or mental health workers as promised, and I would argue that they cannot be replaced. The role of an SPLO is much different than any of these providers could take on and they are not police professionals or experts in crime prevention or criminal investigations.”

The school board told Black Press Media they decided not to issue a statement.

“We just want the school board to open up dialogue and revisit this issue and really take seriously what our kids are going through in schools right now,” said Poppe. “I’ve invited them to several gang seminars and sadly not one has gone to any of them yet. They need to know what’s happening and they need to know that these are our partners.”

West Shore RCMP is hosting an upcoming seminar on gang education. On March 4, starting at 6:15 p.m., the RCMP is encouraging parents, teachers, youth, and the community to attend.

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About the Author: Ella Matte

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