Do we need cops in public schools?

In the absence of public discussion, inter-agency collaboration and hard data proving need, Ponoka town council was right

In the absence of public discussion, inter-agency collaboration and hard data proving need, Ponoka town council was right to withhold financial support for the school board’s plan to station a school resource officer in Ponoka public schools.

Council, if it had the political will, could easily justify its $30,000 share of the estimated $130,000 it would cost to have a Mountie work more closely with school administration, teachers and students. Municipalities are, after all, ultimately responsible for the safety of everyone within municipal boundaries — residents, motorists, tourists and students. Surely the benefits of crime prevention, protection of property, and the safety of staff and students would be worth the minimal tax increase.

Wolf Creek Public Schools has made it clear it wants cops in its schools; has them in Blackfalds and Lacombe, wants one in Ponoka and has Rimbey in its sights.

Rimbey has more than enough peace officers to serve its population and Ponoka County has even chipped in to pay for another, so why does the Wolf Creek Public Schools board feel it is necessary to buy an armed school resource officer dedicated to interacting with students at all grade levels? Surely this cannot be a kneejerk reaction to the thwarted Christmastime gun threat at Ponoka Composite High School. The teen-idiot never made it to the school grounds.

Is it a security issue? A commissionaire and security cameras would be cheaper. Is it to recognize and diffuse student conflicts and deter violence? Hire a bouncer. Is a stronger authority figure needed to set students on the straight and narrow? Give guidance counsellors firearms training.

Why haven’t the other school jurisdictions in the county been brought under this school resource officer umbrella? Would more players at the table not reduce the costs to all? Are students in other Christian, Catholic and Hutterite schools not worth protecting?

We want a safe and caring learning environment for our students but do we really need to dedicate an RCMP member to enforce respect, courtesy and tolerance, and to reduce bullying and vandalism? That can’t be achieved in schools today without a police presence? Take away the strap and replace it with a gun?

What are FCSS, police and bylaw officers, parent school councils, student councils and church groups already doing to address the issues? What is the community doing to improve parenting skills in at-risk families? What is the community’s plan to develop and implement other intervention and prevention strategies?

If cops are needed in schools, why not also in seniors lodges? These vulnerable citizens are just as likely as their grandchildren to be the victims of theft, violence and sexual harassment, or to abuse drugs.

When it’s convenient, RCMP dust off their community policing objectives and point to their platitudinous goal to build positive relationships with youths by being positive role models interacting socially with youths, building a mutually trusting, respectful relationship. The RCMP’s dalliance with temperance, the ineffective DARE program, is a proven waste of time and police resources. It makes no difference in the lives of most students exposed to the program so why not divert that cop to more productive pursuits?

Police are already involved with youths as sports coaches, church lay ministers and Big Brothers but these school resource officers should be specially trained cop-counsellors who can achieve positive outcomes — not a Mountie yanked off his horse and stuck in a classroom. Would the school resource position be filled with an underperforming, disgruntled or short-time cop?

If this cop is dealing with truancy, vandalism, bullying, drug and alcohol use, and cafeteria food fights, will we not see more students processed through the courts than through detention?

School trustees are walking a fine line with a position that combines the roles of coach, counsellor and cop. It may be that we have to resign ourselves to cops in schools, but by not convincing town council and the community of the need, in this case, the school board hasn’t done its homework.

— Off the Record

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