Every school day, tens of thousands of public high school students in New York City start their day by standing in long lines so they can pass through metal detectors. At least 90 percent of these little are black or Latinx and many of them are searched and wanded before being allowed to go to class.
We know that the NYPD’s use of metal detectors is extensive. We believe there are permanent metal detectors in place in about 90 school buildings. On top of that, students and principals at many other schools have reached out to us after they were subjected to the trauma of unannounced scanning. Last year, the New York Times reported on an after-school sports program that was decimated by the NYPD’s sudden and unexplained decision to make all players, including elementary-aged children, go through scanning to enter the gym.
We don’t know exactly how many metal detectors are in use or how often, where they are assigned, and what belongings police confiscate from students at screening. We don’t know if it's actually true that every school in the city is subject to unannounced screening at any time. We don’t know whether kids in metal detector schools are subject to more arrests or suspensions, though there is good evidence that is the case. We don’t know the school climate impacts of metal detectors, or whether school principals are ever successful when they ask for a metal detector to be removed from their schools. We don’t know this information, even though the law says we should.
Since 2016 the NYPD has been required to collect information on the use of metal detectors in schools and report that information to the city council and the public. This March, the NYCLU submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the council, asking for these reports. In April, the council responded saying it did not have the data we requested. Last year, some members of the city council were also denied access to this information by the NYPD.
This is yet another example of the NYPD's tendency to act as an unchecked, separate and secretive branch of city government that’s unaccountable to New Yorkers
The NYPD is flouting the law by refusing to produce these reports. The public needs to know how metal detectors are impacting students across the city. Members of our Teen Activist Project (TAP) and their fellow students regularly tell us how invasive and discouraging metal detectors are. They make students feel like prisoners in their own schools who are always under suspicion. They create barriers to full participation in school, making kids late to class, requiring them to take off their shoes and belts every morning, and subjecting them to criminal scrutiny for possession of personal property like cell phones, school supplies, and silverware.
We have lots of evidence that points to the harm metal detectors cause, but we need the data the NYPD is legally obligated to report. We believe the NYPD's School Safety Division unfairly targets schools attended by students of color, in low income communities, for metal detector screening. The discriminatory impact of metal detector screening in New York City schools is not an accident. It's a choice made by the police as part of the NYPD’s continued adherence to the racist and harmful Broken Windows strategy of policing. But the NYPD refuses to report this information, just like it refused to report stop-and-frisk data for years.
New Yorkers deserve a police department that treats everyone fairly; we also deserve an NYPD that doesn’t consider itself above the law. This is yet another example of the NYPD’s tendency to act as an unchecked, separate and secretive branch of city government that’s unaccountable to New Yorkers.
The NYPD must bring itself into compliance with the law and provide information on metal detectors that is vital to understanding the department’s role in our schools.
The NYCLU’s Education Policy Center is hosting a series of town halls across New York State focusing on metal detectors and other elements that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline. The first one is at New York City’s Transit Tech High School on Saturday, May 4 at 12 p.m. If you want to join the effort to make schools in your community safer and more supportive, please RSVP here.