Local schools ‘pause’ partnership with Windsor police for VIP program, other initiatives

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Windsor police confirmed Thursday they have been asked to stop sending officers into local schools, at least temporarily ending longstanding partnerships that resulted in initiatives such as the decades-old VIP program.

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“We were recently notified by the public and Catholic boards they are pausing police related programs including the high school resource officers and the Values, Influences and Peers (VIP) program, among other programs at the schools,” said acting Chief Jason Bellaire.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board said Thursday that community resource officers have not been in its schools over the last two years because non-essential visitors were banned during the pandemic.

Despite the message police received, the Catholic board told the Star there isn’t a plan to pause or end the relationship, but suggested it could be eyeing some changes now that restrictions have been lifted.

“At this time, there are no plans to remove Community Resource Officers from our schools, however we are in discussions with senior officers from the Windsor Police Service to determine what this, and other programs with local police services, will look like moving forward, ” the board said in a written statement.

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The board said there are “many benefits” to partnering with police, “and we look forward to working with the Windsor Police Service to determine how they can continue to serve our student communities.”

The Greater Essex County District School Board did confirm Thursday it has ceased programs. But in a written statement, the board said the partnership is not permanently cancelled, just on hiatus.

“Our High School Resource Officer and VIP programs have been on pause for the last two years due to the pandemic,” the public board said. “We value and appreciate our long-standing partnership with our local police services. The board is currently engaged in an equity audit and is developing a strategy that includes consideration of the role of police in schools. At this time, these programs remain paused.”

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Generally speaking, an equity audit is an examination of the fairness of an institution’s programs and policies, with a focus on how they impact individuals in relation to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and other factors.

The organization said its audit will be a “full review off all board practices, policies and procedures through an equity lens.”

“We do look forward to discussions with WPS about the community policing program.”

Bellaire said several efforts will end in schools boards including Unite, an anti-racism initiative.

Perhaps the best known of the initiatives is the VIP program, introduced in 1985, which saw an officer assigned to every Grade 6 class in Windsor, according to the police website. The goal was “reinforcing responsible citizenship, positive social behavior and community values.”

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High school resource officers have been in local secondary schools daily since 2008. They interacted with students and helped “head off situations that otherwise may result in more serious police action,” the police website states.

The high school resource officers will start transitioning into “parallel roles” in different neighborhoods.

Bellaire said the high school program was unique in Ontario because, unlike other larger services, most Windsor police members are from Windsor-Essex.

“It’s not unusual for our community high school resource officers to be working in the very schools that they attended in their youth,” he said. “That’s not always common across the province or other parts of Canada. So we really hope the people that are making this decision are looking through a local lens, and not contaminating their decision-making with assessments or happenings in other jurisdictions.”

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