The Curious Choice – Selecting a Police Abolitionist to Review a School Partnership with the Police
Chief Danny Smyth
After a decision from the Provincial Ombudsman, the Louis Riel School Division released a redacted version of a report by Fadi Ennab, who was hired by the LRSD to evaluate the SRO program. His selection as the evaluator was a curious choice given his outspoken anti-police views, and he delivered exactly the kind of report one might expect from a police abolitionist. More on that later.
The history of the SRO program in Winnipeg is important for context. The SRO Program has existed since 2002 when the original pilot project began as a three-year partnership between the Winnipeg School Division (WSD) the Province of Manitoba, and the Winnipeg Police Service. The pilot project was advanced and administered by the North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC). After three years the pilot project was evaluated favourably and adopted as a permanent program. One of the over-arching goals of this strategic partnership was to build stronger relationships between the community and the police. The SRO program allowed students and parents to have more informal engagement with the school resource officers, who often provided advice and education about crime prevention. When school administrators required law enforcement, police resources from general patrol or investigative units were assigned. Law enforcement was not the priority for school resource officers.
Each evaluation of the SRO program renewed interest and desire to expand the SRO program beyond the north end. Within five years, every school within the Winnipeg School Division had access to the SRO program, with additional police officers assigned to the central and south zones of the school division.
In 2009, the Pembina Trails School Division asked the Province of Manitoba and the Winnipeg Police Service to expand the SRO program into its jurisdiction. Again, after favourable evaluations conducted by independent researchers, the SRO program continued to gain interest and expand. Soon, Seven Oaks School Division, St. James School Division, River-East/Transcona School Division, and Louis Riel School Division were asked to participate in the program.
The governance and structure of the SRO program have always been important. Steering committees were established that included representation from students and parents, along with school administration and police administration. Regular meetings enabled any concerns or improvements to be discussed and considered.
As part of the original tripartite agreement, evaluations of the SRO program were a requirement for continued funding. The SRO program has been evaluated by independent researchers on multiple occasions with positive results:
1. Prairie Research Associates (2005). Evaluation of the North End School Resource Officer Partnership Initiative.
2. Dalke, K. & Kowbel, M. (2007)—Evaluation of the North End School Resource Officer Initiative.
3. School Resource Management Committee (2010). School Resource Officer Program Evaluation.
4. Kaplan Research and Associates (2012)—Formative Evaluation of the SRO Program in Pembina Trails School Division.
5. Kaplan Research and Associates (2014)—Formative Evaluation of the SRO Program in Winnipeg School Division.
6. Gagnon, E. & Friesen, D. (2016)— Formative Evaluation of the SRO Program in Seven Oaks School Division.
7. School Resource Management Committee (2021). River East/Transcona School Resource Officer Program Evaluation
This leads me to the research of Fadi Ennab, a researcher associated with the Manitoba Research Alliance and a PhD student at the University of Manitoba. His research, according to his University of Winnipeg bio, focuses on the history of police violence against Indigenous communities on the prairies. You can find some of his research online. Late last year, he partnered with Police Free Schools Winnipeg to publish a report on the school resource program:
Ennab, F. & Police Free Schools Winnipeg, (2022), Safer Schools Without Policing Indigenous and Black Lives Winnipeg.
This report states its methods used an equity-based approach, which included selecting youth who were either Indigenous or Black and currently or recently attended school in the North End or Downtown Winnipeg—and were willing to talk about school safety. Twenty-four youths were recruited, along with thirteen parents. Each was given a $25 gift card for participating. A very small sample for an area that would have over 33,000 students. That said, it is important to acknowledge those who shared their perspective.
Police Free Schools Winnipeg, has been described as a grassroots advocacy group of parents, students, and teachers organizing for equitable schools without police involvement. One of the organizers of this group is Irene Bindi. Her views are easy enough to find as a contributor to The Briarpatch Magazine and the Wpg Police Cause Harm website, among others. She is a regular delegate at the Winnipeg Police Board public meetings. She presented at the March 10th meeting. I encourage readers to watch her presentation which will provide context for the views of the members of Police Free Schools Winnipeg.
Mr. Ennab addressed the partnership with Police Free Schools Winnipeg in his report: “While some may consider this partnership to cause bias, critical scholars and activists have argued that since the police are not neutral in its role, it is important for ethical research and writing to advocate against the harms of policing and systemic racism in the community.” From my perspective, it appears that Ennab’s views on this subject are predetermined, and a review of the redacted report supports this conclusion.
On March 17th, Louis Riel School Division released a redacted version of Ennab’s 2021 report: An Equity-Based Review of Police Involvement in Schools: The School Resource Officers Program.
The methodology of this report has some similarities with the report he partnered with Police Free Schools Winnipeg. Again, he recruited a small number of people to conduct interviews. Ennab describes the methodology in the report: “Participants who identified as Black or Indigenous in the surveys and who had direct experiences with police in schools were prioritized for interviews. This focus is important given that these groups face disproportionate targeting by police and their experience may be different than other racialized groups due to systemic racism and colonialism”. In total, he conducted thirty interviews with people that fit his criteria. Again, it is important to acknowledge those willing to share their perspective; and it is also important to acknowledge that the views of two students were excluded when he discovered that the student’s parent were employed by the Winnipeg Police Service.
Ennab was aware that the small sample could be problematic. He described how difficult it was to recruit participants who fit his criteria. Ultimately, none of the student participants he interviewed identified as Indigenous. He was quick to explain: “The low number of Black and Indigenous participants is likely related to the fact that these communities face structural disadvantages that prevent them from engaging in school activities including review.” Again, from my perspective, reporting percentages based on a small number of hand-picked, non-representative interviews is problematic from a methods standpoint and very misleading.
Many media outlets were quick to report on the redacted report with bold headlines calling out police harm as described in the reported interviews. I don’t remember the media ever having an interest in any of the evaluations previously conducted, but why would they? None of those reviews were controversial or portrayed the police negatively. Fadi Enabb himself was quick to comment on social media and grant interviews. He put out a series of tweets on March 18th:
1. After I submitted this report, I was told that it is “controversial” and “we don’t want a kangaroo court,” but this withholding and redaction of experiences of harm and equity-research, says something else.
2. I have heard of kangaroos before, but never Kangaroo Court together, since English is not my ‘first langquage’. I consulted wiki:
3. Now when I think of kangaroos, no I don’t think of zoos, but I think of colonial plunder of settler colonies like Australia, Canada, and Israel. I think of all the Indigenous leaders, warriors, and ordinary folx who were executed by kangaroo courts. Lest we forget Louis Riel!
4. So how do we end the Kangaroo Courting of racialized communities by white supremacy? We stand against the targeting of racialized communities by police, school administrations, boards, policies, and structures.
Let's be clear; the WPS has partnered with school divisions to provide the school resource officer program because they asked for the program. The Louis Riel School Division was a late adopter of the program and was never as committed as the other school divisions. They opted for one school resource officer for the entire division of more than 16,000 students. At best, they dipped their toe in the water and decided not to jump in. Fair enough. School divisions can decide whether they want to continue with the program.
As for the review, I suspect the Louis Riel School Division was none too pleased with the Ennab report. It doesn’t surprise me that they initially chose to withhold the report, but not for the reasons being reported by the media.