New NYPD Data Raise Concerns over Racial Disparities in NYC School Arrests

November 28, 2011 —  Police arrested or ticketed approximately four students each day in New York City public schools from July through September, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union analysis of new NYPD data. About 94 percent of students arrested were black or Latino; nearly 83 percent were male.

“The data raise concerns about black students being disproportionally arrested in the city’s schools,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “If the Bloomberg administration is truly serious about closing the achievement gap, then they must address this disparity and focus more attention on educating children – not arresting them.”

The NYPD recently released the data pursuant to the Student Safety Act – a new law requiring the Police Department to submit quarterly reports to the City Council on information related to its school safety operations, including the number of students arrested and issued summonses by the School Safety Division of the NYPD. The data, which covers operations from July 1 to September 30, includes the number of arrests conducted by the NYPD’s School Safety Division; the number of summonses issued by the School Safety Division; and the number of non-criminal incidents involving the School Safety Division and students. The same reporting law also required that the NYPD release data on arrests and summonses in schools from April 1 to June 30. The reporting of this data is several months overdue.

According to the data, the School Safety Division arrested, on average, more than one student a day and issued summonses to approximately three students each day. Overall, the School Safety Division made 63 arrests and issued 182 summonses in the reporting period, which includes only 43 school days for middle school students and 50 school days for high school students, two-thirds of which occurred during summer school. (About 11 percent of public school students were required to attend summer school this year, indicating that during a typical three month period, the number of arrests and summonses in schools would be much higher.)

The majority of summonses issued by NYPD school safety officers were for disorderly conduct (54 percent). The second most issued summons was for riding a bike on the sidewalk (13 percent). Sixty-three percent of all summonses were issued in the Bronx and Queens.

Among arrested students – the only group for whom racial data was released – 68 percent were black and 25 percent were Latino. All of the arrests made in Brooklyn and Staten Island were of black and Latino students. Black and Latino students represent approximately 29 percent and 40 percent, respectively, of the overall public school population, according to New York City Department of Education statistics.

The DOE does not release demographic data on the student population required to enroll in summer school, but black students made up 37 percent of third through eighth graders who scored a 1 on the English Language Arts (ELA) exam and 42 percent of students who scored a 1 on the mathematics exam. Latino students made up 49 percent and 48 percent of students who scored a 1 on the ELA and mathematics exam, respectively. Students who score less than 2 must attend summer school and retake the exams.

“This report provides the first glimpse into what the NYPD is doing in our schools,” said Udi Ofer, NYCLU advocacy director. “Instead of arresting students who need the most help, the Bloomberg administration should redirect resources from police to services that support student achievement. Why are we employing 5,400 police personnel and only 3,000 guidance counselors?”

It is not clear why the NYPD omitted racial data on summonses issued as the Student Safety Act requires disclosure of this data, and summonses currently capture racial demographic information. Moreover, these statistics only include NYPD personnel assigned to school buildings. Arrests and summonses by precinct officers, who are often called in by school safety officers, are not reflected in this quarterly report, indicating that the data reported by the NYPD represents only a portion of the arrests and summonses in schools. It is unclear how many of the arrests and summonses by the School Safety Division of the NYPD were of non-students.

According to the data, there were 380 total non-criminal incidents involving police personnel at city schools during the reporting period. It is unclear from the Police Department’s report what happened during these incidents.

Last month, the city reported that schools handed out more suspensions to students than ever before, increasing to 73,441 in 2010-2011. (In Mayor Bloomberg’s first year in control of city schools, the Department of Education issued 31,879 suspensions.) More than half of the suspensions were given to black students, and nearly a third to students with special needs.