The New York Civil Liberties Union released an analysis today of New York City school safety data showing that, while arrests by school safety officers are steadily declining, NYPD police officers continue to play an outsized role in the city’s schools. More must be done to eliminate extreme racial disparities in who is arrested and given summonses, to cut back on the number of children who are unnecessarily handcuffed and to curtail the NYPD’s role in school discipline.
“We have made a great deal of progress over the last few years and it’s very clear that the use of harsh police tactics in school disciplinary matters is neither necessary nor effective to keep children and staff safe,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We must make sure that NYPD policies and practices in schools foster a safe and supportive learning environment for all children.”
Under amendments to the Student Safety Act passed in 2015, the NYPD must now report data on the number of arrests by all officers in schools as well as the use of handcuffs. Data shows that students of color are far more likely to be handcuffed, including in cases where the incident appeared to be based on emotional distress. A “child in crisis” incident is one where a student “displaying signs of emotional distress” is removed from the classroom and taken to a hospital for a psychological evaluation. In 2016, there were 262 “child in crisis” incidents where handcuffs were used – and 99 percent of those incidents involved Black or Latino children.
Also troubling is the outsize role that NYPD precinct officers – with no training in the school environment – play in arresting students. Although arrests by school safety officers have gone down overall in schools, only 11.5 percent of total arrests were conducted by those officers. The other 88.5 percent of arrests were conducted by NYPD precinct officers.
Further, more than a quarter of total arrests were for non-school-related incidents that took place off school grounds. This means NYPD officers may be going to schools to target children in conjunction with criminal investigations that have no connection to the school.
The NYCLU recommends that the city adopt a memorandum of understanding to limit the role of police in school discipline, and ensure that NYPD personnel in schools operate in a manner consistent with the best interests of children.
Despite the fact that filing complaints against school safety officers is a complicated and non-transparent process, the analysis also shows that there were 208 complaints made against school safety officers, including 89 for use of force, 15 for abuse of authority, 17 for offensive language and 87 for discourtesy.
“Police officers should never handcuff students who don’t pose an immediate safety threat,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Johanna Miller. “And the NYPD should not treat schools as places to hunt for students they believe committed a crime off of school grounds. Students should never be afraid to go to school.”
This analysis is based on the first annual report required under the amended Student Safety Act, originally passed in 2011 and amended in 2015. The law is one of the strongest transparency laws of its kind in the country. The 2015 amendments build upon reforms advocated by the NYCLU for a decade that aim to make schools safer environments for the city’s most vulnerable children.