A move to pull uniformed police officers out of Edmonton Public Schools should be reconsidered following the deadly attack on a 16-year-old student, the leader of the police association argues.

Karanveer Sahota was stabbed outside of McNally High School on April 8.

He died of his injuries a week later, and Wednesday’s autopsy determined a stab wound to the chest was the cause of death.

“My heart does go out to the family and to the community for this, but it does beg the question of should the SRO program be looked at again because of the positive effects it can have,” Staff Sgt. Michael Elliott told CTV News Edmonton .

In spring 2019, the board “paused” its school resource officer program (SRO) that had been active since 1979. Edmonton Catholic Schools kept officers in their schools.

Police have provided few details and have not announced any arrests in the homicide case.

A statement from Edmonton Police Service last weekend said “a number of youth suspects have been identified.” On Wednesday EPS said “charges will be forthcoming.”

“I can’t tell you if the SRO would have prevented this incident from occurring,” Elliott allowed.

“But what I can tell you is that I do know that the SROs, when working in the schools have received notices, quite frequently, unfortunately, that students will come up, slip notes, contact them on Reddit, tell them in private that there is going to be an incident after school, please be on the lookout.”

‘POSITIVE INTERACTIONS ARE NOT WELL DISTRIBUTED’

Instead of SROs, the board hired non-uniformed staff members it called “safety coaches” to work with students in three schools. They “focus on trauma-informed practices, restorative practices and building relationships in the school and community.”

The SRO program remains paused, a spokesperson said.

“Currently, the School Resource Officer program research is ongoing to take an objective look at the lived experiences of our Black, Indigenous and People of Color students. A final report is expected in November,” Megan Normandeau wrote in a statement to CTV News Edmonton .

A local criminologist is studying the effectiveness of SROs in schools.

“We know, for example, that perceptions of, and experiences with, SRO officers is largely shaped by people’s social identities,” explained Temitope Oriola from the University of Alberta.

He’s found that a small majority of people in Edmonton support SRO programs, but those against them were strong in their opposition.

“Popularity is not the same as harmlessness. It is of no use to deny the reality that there are those who have positive interactions with SRO officers. The issue is those positive interactions are not well distributed,” Oriola explained.

Elliott said it’s difficult to find exact statistics on how much the SRO program has impacted violence in local schools. Not only has the pandemic drastically changed attendance since the program was paused, but a lot of the work the officers do is “proactive.”

“This has been the benefit of the SRO: being there to stop potential incidents from occurring. So they have stopped in the past, and I know that’s part of the relationships that SROs build with their students and staffing,” he said.

CTV News Edmonton offered Sohota’s family an opportunity to comment on this story. A cousin said the family would have more to say later.


With files from CTV News’ Joe Scarpelli, Adam Lachacz and Bill Fortier


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