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Trustees, principals fear loss of officer program

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair (right) and Staff Inspector Mary Lee Metcalfe, Commander of the Sex Crimes Unit, are photographed during a press conference on Oct 22 2012. Police announced an arrest in sex assault cases in the Bloor St. West and Christie St. neighbourhood of Toronto.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto school board trustees and high school principals are upset that they may lose a police-initiated program they say has been an immensely positive resource in their schools.

Police Chief Bill Blair has proposed eliminating the School Resource Officer program if the force's budget is kept at the 2012 level. Union-negotiated pay increases means the force would have to lay off officers and take others away from schools for front-line duty.

"I think it's a horrible possibility," said Jerry Chadwick, Toronto District School Board trustee for Ward 22-Scarborough East. "It's developing a relationship between the police and the students that is going to last long beyond their time at their particular schools."

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The SRO program was introduced in 2008 after Jordan Manners, 15, was fatally shot at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute in 2007. Since then, officers have been placed in approximately 60 high schools across the city. The officers become a part of the school's culture, said Mr. Chadwick. They play basketball with the kids, act as mentors, attend their graduation, and provide advice on legal matters.

Ron Felsen, principal of Northern Secondary School at Mount Pleasant Road and Eglinton Avenue, said that while there are no statistics that quantify the impact of SROs, suspension rates at his school have dropped by 80 per cent from 2009 to 2012, in part, he believes, because of SROs.

Not everybody is fond of the program, however. "If officers wished to volunteer with the kids after school that would be acceptable but not during the school day in uniform with a gun," said TDSB trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher (Beaches-East York). "Neither of my high schools chose to have the program. Think of the money we save the chief!"

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