Ottawa mayor, police chief call for return of uniformed officers in schools

Ottawa’s mayor and top cop are calling on the city’s largest public school board to revisit its ban on officers wearing uniforms in schools.

Chief Eric Stubbs says the policy has impacted the police force’s ability to connect with youth, and calls for service have increased at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board schools since the policy was implemented.

The OCDSB’s policy came into the spotlight this week, after an Ottawa police officer was told not to wear her uniform to speak to her daughter’s Grade 1 class at Stittsville Public School.

Trustees with the board voted in June 2021 to “immediately and completely end” the School Resource Officer program in schools, and the board would only meet its “minimum statutory obligations under the relevant provincial protocols.”

Premier Doug Ford, Education Minister Stephen Lecce, Ottawa Police Association president Matt Cox urged the board to reconsider the move and allow officers in schools.

On Friday, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe waded into the debate, saying “We build trust by connecting with each other, not by turning people away.”

“Police officers are valued members of our community and much appreciated public servants. Like all municipal employees, they are dedicated to serving the people of Ottawa. And they often work in difficult and dangerous circumstances,” Sutcliffe said on Twitter.

“Many of them are leaders and role models in the community and also parents and volunteers at local schools. A parent who offers to visit her child’s school to share her career experiences should not be turned away. I encourage the school board to reconsider their decision.”

Chief Stubbs sent a letter to Ottawa-Carleton District School Board director Michele Giroux on Friday, saying the board’s decision “runs counter to the best interests of youth and our community.”

“We appreciate the concern and fear felt by some in our community and by some youth. However, we feel this concern is best addressed through dialogue and understanding,” Stubbs said.

“We have demonstrated the value of providing important youth services and building strong partnerships for school safety. These services include assisting youth who are experiencing abuse or violence, assisting youth seeking resources for help, and responding to school incidents such as the gun call at Lisgar Collegiate.

“We believe that police members can also offer valuable insights and guidance to students about careers in law enforcement and other related fields, including personal safety and emergency preparedness education.”

Stubbs says police have “close relationships” with many staff, students, and principals across the city, adding they “regularly call on our officers for help.” He also said “reactive calls for service” have increased at OCDSB schools.

The chief asks the board to revisit the policy and “consider the benefits that police presentations can bring to our schools and communities.”

In a letter to the Ottawa Police Association, Giroux asked to arrange a meeting with the union to discuss police services in schools, and said they would also reach out to Stubbs to chat.

Police a ‘trusted partner’, OCDSB trustee says

Board chair Lyra Evans told Newstalk 580 CFRA there is no immediate plan to reverse the policy.

“The board made that decision in 2021 after undergoing an extensive community consultation. We heard from many members of our community that they didn’t feel safe in schools around police, that the increase in police presence was causing a disproportionate response towards our Indigenous students, our Black students, our students with disabilities – were all saying there was an increase in anxiety, an increase in stress,” Evans said.

Evans says the board voted to “pause” the School Resource Officer program while it re-evaluates the relationship with police.

“We’re not at the end of the book; there’s still many chapters left to be written.”

However, Trustee Donna Dickson is calling on Evans to rethink her position on police in schools.

“As a mother whose son was taken from me due to gun violence and have worked closely with the Ottawa police to seek justice, I find it insulting for Trustee Evans to suggest that the presence of police in schools has a negative impact on students’ mental health and their academic achievement,” Dickson said in a statement on Twitter.

“We need more of our community partners to play an active role in our school system as positive role models – not less. I encourage my fellow trustees to speak up against the anti-police sentiment.”

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