Michele Henry & Kristin Rushowy, Toronto Star
June 24, 2008
Contrary to comments made yesterday by the Toronto school board chair, police officers roaming the halls of Toronto’s high schools this fall will not only be uniformed, they’ll also be armed, Chief Bill Blair said today.
“Quite frankly, as you can probably guess by my constant appearance, I believe in police officers in uniform,” he told a press conference this morning.
“I want the people of Toronto to see their police. I want them to have a relationship with the entire police service that is based on trust and respect. And my police officers are armed.”
His comments were in direct contrast to school board chair John Campbell, who said yesterday that in a bid to improve safety and build relationships with teens, police will set up an office in several high schools around the city but their presence will be “casual and low-key.”
“I think we’re going to have guys in blue slacks and golf shirts meeting with kids, and talking to kids, and doing community development,” he said.
But Blair said no officers of his will be wandering around in golf shirts and jeans.
Last month, the Toronto board approved an action plan in response to a January report by a safety panel looking into conditions in the city’s public schools.
That panel, headed by lawyer Julian Falconer, was struck following the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners at C.W. Jefferys high school in May 2007.
Included in the board’s action plan was a call for “positive police interactions with students in school buildings,” and a way to establish a friendly police presence, as well as boost security.
Campbell estimated more than 20 public high schools, and five or six Catholic schools, will take part.
The police chief, however, was tight-lipped about details of exactly how officers will work and interact with staff and students from Toronto’s public and Catholic schools, but did say he looks forward to staffing as many schools as possible.
Blair said he does not want to create a perception that officers will only be gracing the halls of problem schools, because there is no such thing, he said, as a “bad school.” In addition to keeping the peace at schools, he said officers will create safety and anti-racism programs.
“I do not intend to have my police officers be hall monitors,” he said. “For us it’s not only about keeping the schools safe but about building relationships with all those young people.”
Trustee Josh Matlow said he received a call last week asking if he’d be open to having such an office in one of his secondary schools.
“Some people have an issue, whether ideologically or out of fear, of having police stationed at a school,” said Matlow.
“If you get past that, functionally, I think it’s a great idea. . . This is a proactive and preventative tool.”
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