|School policing so far|
Guardian Staff Reporter
Published: Sep 12, 2012
It was just over a week ago that over 200 police officers were stationed at public schools in New Providence, Grand Bahama and Abaco.
So far the program seems to be working, according to two school principals and Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson.
Police officers were permanently assigned to the schools, at least until a change in government, as part of the first Christie administration’s school-based policing program from 2002 to 2007.
That program was abandoned by the Ingraham administration shortly after it came to office in 2007.
Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald said principals of various government schools and the BUT agreed to the decision by the new Christie administration to station officers in schools. He said the program aims to make teachers and students feel safe.
It is unclear exactly how many serious crimes have been committed on school campuses on a year-to-year basis since the decision was made in the first Christie administration to place officers in schools. Police have been unable to give statistics. However, several homicides have occurred in schools or nearby schools in recent years.
The Nassau Guardian spoke with two school principals who said officers were fitting in at their schools.
Collin Johnson, principal of R.M. Bailey High School, said the officers stationed at his school have things under control, and there has been no evidence to suggest that students or parents have a problem with the officers.
“Here they are relaxed and everything is under control,” he said.
Greta Brown, principal at C.H. Reeves Junior High School, said officers were blending in with that school family.
“It has a lot to do with their personalities,” she said.
“One of our police officers is known to the students and is known in the community. They (students) treat them like any other security officers.”
She said no one has raised concerns with officers being stationed in her school, though she admitted that the officers were not armed.
Former Minister of Education Desmond Bannister said it was a huge mistake to allow armed officers on school campuses. He thinks it would intimidate students, who are now “being treated like criminals”.
“A police officer, for a child in school is a symbol of authority and if our officers have to go on school campuses armed they are really saying that our children are at a stage where they are regarded by the (Christie) administration as criminals,” Bannister said on Friday.
“Dignity In Schools points out that in the United States the ‘vast number of police in schools do not help students flourish or necessarily make schools any safer’,” Bannister added on Sunday.
Fitzgerald responded, saying Bannister’s remarks were misguided.
“I have made the point that I do not see the difference. Either the police are authorized by the commissioner and the Ministry of National Security to carry arms or they are not,” replied Fitzgerald on Monday.
“We at the Ministry of Education trust the police and their discretion off and on campus.
“As the commissioner said, the whole police force will be involved in school-based policing. What many of our detractors keep missing is that the police also have a stake in the security of our schools. Many of them are parents and want peace of mind of knowing that their children are safe at school.”
Wilson, the leader of one of the largest unions in the country, said she thinks the program is a good idea.
“We don’t have any issues with it,” she said.
“From our understanding the police are going to complement the security officers in the schools. Remember we had been asking for the support to help security officers.”
Earlier this year two government high schools on New Providence were robbed and the security guards tied up and beaten in separate incidents.
Wilson also noted that police are to assist with conflict resolution in the schools and also encourage students to pursue careers in the force.
Prime Minister Perry Christie has repeatedly said the move to place officers in schools is not a permanent one, but rather a necessary response to the incidents of violence on and around campuses.
“There is nothing wrong with doing an assessment in December of the program. And if the officers need to go, we will say so,” said Wilson.