Whistler RCMP are seeking the endorsement of parents for a proposal to install a full-time police liaison officer at local schools.
At meeting of the Myrtle Philip Parent Advisory Council on Tuesday, April 10, Staff Sergeant Hilton Haider outlined his plan for a split school liaison and community policing job to be shared between two RCMP officers. Currently Constable Ray Bernoties is the only officer involved in full-time community policing work that includes school programs such Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE.
Haider said his vision is for a 13-year plan that would connect kindergarten children through to Grade 12 graduates with RCMP school liaison officers. He said their role would be to deliver educational programs, investigate school related offences and help school administrators to informally resolve less serious incidents. Programs would be tailored to each age group, he added.
"At the kindergarten level for example, talking to strangers is an important topic and what a child should do if someone asks for help to look for a puppy up an alley," he said. "Most children receive a lot of guidance from their parents and teachers, but in some ways the message might get through more when it comes from a police officer."
Other themes taught under the Canadian School Liaison programs include 911, home alone, sexual/physical abuse, date rape, traffic and liquor regulations, weapons, drunk-driving and the RCMP as a career.
The concept of police school liaison officers began in Liverpool, England in 1951 and was introduced to British Columbia through new school liaison programs in 1972.
A parent at the meeting asked if any research had been undertaken into the effect of school liaison officers in terms of decreasing drug use or violence. Haider replied that the DARE program, for example, has only been running three or four years and it was too early to ascertain any trends. He added that each community has issues specific to its members, so its hard to pinpoint expected results.
"Squamish has some major problems that we dont have here, but in Whistler kids have brought booze to school and an imitation gun," he said. "Kids come to school with bumps and bruises, sometimes from parents, and there is also the issue of bullying that we need to address as a society by educating at a very young age."
Haider said some local parents have expressed their opposition to a uniformed RCMP officer in schools because of the requirement to carry a gun. But he says officers dont always carry a gun.
"School liaison officers also have a soft uniform that is a gym outfit where they are not required to wear a firearm," he explained. "However, at times that objectionable object must be worn."
Haider said it costs approximately $102,000 a year to finance a schools liaison and community policing position, and ideally local schools would not be asked to contribute. He said as Whistlers resident population is under 15,000, the federal government would foot 30 per cent of the bill. The municipality has indicated support for the proposal. However, he says strong support is also needed from Whistler parents if the proposal is to get off the ground.
"This is an opportunity to create a positive police presence in and around Whistler schools by acting in a consultative capacity with student, teachers and parents on police-rated issues."
Haider said another advantage of bringing in the extra officer would be continuity of community policing, because under the current rotating set-up in Whistler, 30 per cent of his staff move on every year and are replaced by newcomers.
"It takes an officer about a year to fully come up to speed with community policing, so having an overlap of positions would allow for a smoother transition."
The RCMP will also put forward the same proposal to parents at a special bully forum at Myrtle Philip school on Wednesday, April 18 and at the Whistler Secondary PAC meeting on Monday, April 23.