NYCLU, Annenberg Institute Release Report on Successful and Safe NYC Schools that say No to Aggressive Police Tactics

July 8, 2009 —  The New York Civil Liberties Union, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and Make the Road New York today released a report documenting the successes of six New York City public high schools in maintaining safe, nurturing educational environments without using metal detectors, aggressive policing and harsh disciplinary policies—measures widely employed in city schools.

Safety with Dignity: Alternatives to the Over-Policing of Schools explores the approaches to security and discipline favored by these six successful schools, which serve “at-risk” student populations, similar to schools with some of the harshest discipline policies. It concludes with practical recommendations to help replicate these success stories in schools throughout the city.

Safety with Dignity: Alternatives to the Over-Policing of Schools explores the approaches to security and discipline favored by these six successful schools, which serve “at-risk” student populations, similar to schools with some of the harshest discipline policies. It concludes with practical recommendations to help replicate these success stories in schools throughout the city.

"The schools profiled in this report prove that there are effective, real-world alternatives to making schools feel like jails,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “They show that treating students with dignity and respect is the best approach to producing good, safe schools.”

The report is based on a one-year quantitative and qualitative study of six high schools: Progress High School for Professional Careers (Brooklyn), Urban Assembly for Careers in Sports (Bronx), Humanities Preparatory Academy (Manhattan), Urban Academy and Vanguard High School – both located in the Julia Richman Education Complex (Manhattan), and Lehman High School (Bronx).

None of these schools currently has metal detectors, although some used the devices in the past. Each employs alternative strategies to intervene with troubled students, and they generally enjoy long-term, positive relationships with school safety agents, NYPD civilian personnel assigned to patrol the schools.

“These schools have chosen a different path, developing effective school safety strategies while promoting and protecting students’ rights,” NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer said. “We encourage the DOE to adopt these strategies throughout the city to provide all students safe, nurturing schools.”

The schools profiled in the report demonstrate their success through improved attendance, student retention and graduation rates, as well as dramatically fewer criminal and non-criminal incidents and school suspensions than schools equipped with permanent metal detectors.

For example, the six successful schools cumulatively had a nearly 62 percent graduation rate for the class of 2007 – compared to a graduation rate of less than 55 percent at schools that employ metal detectors. Likewise, during the 2006-07 school year, the suspension rate in schools with metal detectors was nearly 78 percent higher than at the successful schools.

“These schools provide a safe, nurturing learning environment,” said Tara Bahl, data and research analyst for the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. “The successful schools’ policies and practices emphasize the students’ dignity, their desire to learn, and their capacity for responsible decision-making. They have created a culture where positive educational outcomes are common and expected and they’ve put students on the path toward graduation.”

Since 1998, when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani transferred school security responsibilities to the NYPD, the number of police personnel in the schools soared by 62 percent, from 3,200 to 5,200. The police force in New York City schools is now the fifth largest police force in the country—there are more police in New York City schools than there are on the streets of cities such as Baltimore, Las Vegas, Boston and Washington D.C.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg imported Giuliani’s “broken windows” policing strategy into the schools—cracking down heavily on minor disciplinary violations. Students, some as young as five, have been handcuffed, taken to jail, and ordered to appear in court for infractions such as tardiness, talking back, truancy, refusing to show identification, and refusing to turn over cell phones.

Bloomberg has also introduced such controversial practices as the “Impact Schools” initiative—which doubles the number of police personnel permanently assigned to certain schools and has police agents enforce a zero tolerance policy for rule infractions—and the “roving” metal detector program, which often subjects youth to bag searches and body pat downs on their way to class. The Department of Education now spends 65 percent more per year—an additional $88 million this year alone—than it did in 2002 on school safety, despite the fact that student enrollment has decreased over the same period.

The escalation of police activity in the schools has created a de facto zero tolerance policy in schools that serve the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In these schools, which often have permanent metal detectors, students can be suspended, expelled or arrested for any number of disciplinary infractions.

These punitive measures contribute to the school to prison pipeline, a system of local, state and federal education and public safety policies that pushes students out of school and into the criminal justice system. The pipeline disproportionately affects youth of color and youth with disabilities.

The report recommends that the DOE:

  • Discourage the installation of metal detectors. Schools can create safe and successful learning environments without relying on metal detectors.
  • Restore discipline responsibilities to educators. Minor disciplinary infractions must be handled exclusively by school officials, not police personnel.
  • Assign fewer School Safety Agents to patrol schools. The number of police personnel patrolling the city’s schools should be reduced significantly, creating financial savings and strengthening the educational mission of the schools.
  • Mandate alternatives to harsh discipline. Restorative justice practices, a conflict resolution method used at several schools profiled in the report, should be implemented in all city schools.
  • Ensure students’ input into school rules. Giving students a sense of ownership over the school rules makes them more willing to obey codes of conduct.
  • Institute transparency and accountability in school safety practices. The DOE must disclose raw data to allow New Yorkers to determine the effectiveness of school safety practices. Moreover, School Safety Agents should be subject to the same oversight as police officers.
  • Provide support services for students’ non-academic needs. Partnering with local hospitals and community based organizations to provide students health care and social services addresses non-academic challenges before they develop into behavioral problems.

Last summer, the NYCLU and its partners in the Student Safety Coalition joined Councilman Robert Jackson in introducing the Student Safety Act in the City Council. Drafted by the Student Safety Coalition, the Student Safety Act would bring transparency and accountability to the massive police presence in the city’s public schools. Currently, 26 council members – a majority of the New York City Council – have endorsed the Student Safety Act as cosponsors. The City Council has yet to schedule a hearing on this important civil rights bill.