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Study offers candid look at Alberta school resource officers

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

Jonny Wakefield

Publishing date: Jun 28, 2020  •  Last Updated 4 days ago  •  4 minute read

Photo: Graham Abela, chief of police in Taber, speaks to media in 2016. He is co-author of a study on school resource officers and school-based violence published this year.TED RHODES TED RHODES/ 00073438A

A new study on school resource officers and violence in Alberta schools recommends formalizing training for SROs, improving student mental health supports and prohibiting cellphones as a means of curbing conflict.

Published this spring, Violence in Alberta’s Urban Schools: The Perspectives of School Resource Officers surveyed SROs in six jurisdictions across Alberta, including Edmonton and Calgary.

The study comes at a time when the future of Edmonton’s 40-year-old SRO program is up in the air. Edmonton Public Schools trustees unanimously called for a review of the program earlier this week amid concerns SROs contribute to criminalization of marginalized students.

A motion to suspend the program narrowly failed but may be revisited Tuesday, following trustee Cheryl Johner’s resignation over a racist comment about refugee students and violence.

The study’s authors — University of Calgary education Prof. J.K. Donlevy and Taber Police Chief Graham Abela — said the paper is the first in a series on violence in Alberta schools that will eventually hear from students, parents and teachers.

“Our purpose was to determine what is the scope and manifestation of violence (in schools): who are our victims, who are our perpetrators, and how does it actually happen? So we can get a handle on it,” Abela said in an interview.

To do that, they surveyed 41 Alberta SROs — 12 of whom sat for in-depth interviews.

The study focuses on officers’ impressions and opinions, rather than hard statistics, and does not consider whether police officers ought to be in schools in the first place (both authors support SRO programs but believe there should be reforms).

It does, however, offer a glimpse into how school resource officers think. Here are a few of the findings.

No specific training

Officers interviewed for the study said they received little to no specific training for their SRO roles. “They relied heavily on their basic police training and experiences, as well as the occasional tangential specialty course,” the study says.

Some believed other police officers look down on them, believing SROs were doing social work and not actual policing. “We have this terrible reputation,” one officer said (all officers in the study were granted anonymity). “Because police officers don’t believe what we do is police work … I am concerned that our current leadership (is) … starting to … (have) that (opinion).”

SROs also have fewer opportunities to earn overtime, and end up making about $10,000 to $15,000 less than their frontline colleagues. Donlevy and Abela recommended standardized provincial training for SROs as well as additional funding to “equalize” their pay.

Cellphones seen as scourge

Cellphones came up time and again. As the authors summarized, “The smartphone is the mechanism through which much of the buildup and planning associated with school violence occurs.”

SROs saw social media as ground zero for bullying.

When asked what they would do with a magic wand, one officer replied: ‘‘No cellphones … that’s a start. Number 1 would be cellphones. Ban cellphones.”

According to officers,

apps like Snapchat and Instagram are a constant source of conflict in schools.

“They know the police aren’t going to get hold of this evidence,” one officer said of Snapchat, which deletes posts after they are viewed.

The study recommends Alberta school districts follow Ontario’s lead and look at banning cellphone use in school.


Officers said they occasionally find weapons in school, including brass knuckles, pepper spray, batons and replica handguns.

Participants in the study did not mention knives, real handguns, or rifles being brought to school.

Part of the study’s goal was to identify common aggressors and common victims in fights, bullying and other forms of school violence. Officers said victims tended to be those with “difficulty socializing and picking up on social cues” — students who are not well-off, who frequently suffer from physical abuse, emotional abuse or neglect at home.

Another subset was gang members, who were “simply ciphers in gang-on-gang violence.

In other words, such violence was … not personal.”

A further subset was a small class of students who SROs characterized as “professional victims.”

“These students were seen as part of the current ‘woke culture’ and thus very sensitive to matters of sociocultural, class, and racial injustice,” the study said. “Some within that group use the woke school culture as a means of seeking power over others and gaining benefit.”

They told Abela and Donlevy they weren’t trying to dismiss the seriousness of the students’ claims. However, the authors noted the “woke culture” remark came up in most of their conversations with SROs.

Religious schools less violent?

One officer who works at several different schools believed religious-based schools have fewer problems with violence.

“I have two faith-based schools that I find I’m not called there even a fraction of the time I am for the other schools,” said the officer, who was not personally religious. “I’m trying to figure out why that is.”

Amount of sex, porn a surprise

Multiple officers brought up the prevalence of pornography and sexual relationships among students.

“What surprised me when I went into the school? Sexual stuff,” said one female officer. (Eighty per cent of Alberta’s roughly 60 municipal SROs are men.)

“I could not believe it started in Grade 7. What surprised me the most was the level of what they know, what they do, and what they have experienced already at that age.”

Another officer said the breakdown of sexual relationships was frequent a source of tension, fights and bullying.

SROs “unanimously” brought up the need for improved mental health initiatives in schools, particularly in middle school, the study said.

‘Absolute transparency’

Donlevy said in addition to standardized training, SROs should undergo more rigorous selection.

He also believed there should be “absolute transparency” around their collection of statistics, as well as SRO program funding.

Edmonton public school trustee Bridget Stirling said they receive little data or reporting about the program, including how often students are criminally charged. Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee says

about two per cent of SRO files result in a charge.

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There is so much money being WASTED on Public Education funding and it is clearly brought to my attention here in this article. Shouldn't these students be learning and not worried about bullying or physical, mental, and sexual harassment. Were there really weapons at the schools?! That is definitely unsafe for everyone, teachers, students, and officers!

Has Home Education ever costed the Education Budget to fund School Resource officers? NO NEVER!

So, lets advocate for Home Education to help save Albertan students a lot of stress and anxiety that they suffer with going to a school that has SRO's; plus, more Home Educators will save our budget millions!!

Increase funds for Home Education and you will see more Albertans Home Educating. The way to save our kids and our economy!

Contact the Minister of Education (Adriana LaGrange) to increase Home Education funding:

Phone: 780 427-5010

Fax: 780 427-5018

E-mail: education.minister@gov.ab.ca

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