NEW YORK – The New York Civil Liberties Union released an analysis today of New York City school safety data showing that Black and Latino children are still disproportionately arrested, handcuffed, and issued summonses by police in their schools. Black and Latino students continue to represent approximately 90 percent of arrests and summonses in school, while constituting only two-thirds of the student body.
Amid the current national conversation about school safety, some have called for more police in schools. The data continues to show, however, that the over-reliance on police to address issues in schools disproportionately impacts Black and Latino students, fueling the school-to-prison pipeline and making schools less safe.
“Schools should be spaces where students feel nurtured and supported, not treated like criminals,” said Donna Lieberman, New York Civil Liberties Union executive director. “The data shows us that the racial disparities in our criminal justice system show up in the classroom. A serious conversation about school safety in 2018 must include addressing the harms of over-policing and the criminalization of students of color.”
The Student Safety Act (SSA) requires the New York Police Department to publicly issue quarterly reports on arrests, summonses, and other police-related incidents in New York City Public schools. Since 2012, the number of arrests and summonses made by School Safety Officers has steadily declined, yet those arrests are just a fraction of NYPD activity in schools, which only began to be reported in 2016. The vast majority of arrests in schools, nearly 85 percent, are carried out by armed police officers with no special training for working with children in a school environment. In 2017, nearly 30 percent of arrests in schools were for incidents that took place outside of school, an indication that police officers may be using schools as a place to locate young people suspected of crimes, sending the message that kids in trouble should stay out of school.
Under Mayor de Blasio, the School Safety Division has made a serious effort to address the overuse of police tactics in school discipline. There has been a dramatic drop in the use of summonses as a result of these efforts: in 2017 those officers issued just 18 summonses, down from 1275 in 2012. NYCLU has long advocated for a ban on the use of summonses in school, which are issued primarily for disorderly conduct, including unreasonable noise, fighting and obscene language. However, precinct officers are not required to follow the same procedures as school safety officers. Overall, NYPD officers still issued a total of nearly 900 summonses, sending children, nearly 90 percent of whom were Black or Latino, into the criminal justice system for noncriminal misbehavior.
Students of color are also more likely than white students to be handcuffed in school, even where there is no criminal activity. Black and Latino students accounted for 93 percent of juvenile reports and 94 percent of mitigated incidents where handcuffs were used, as well as 93 percent of child-in-crisis incidents where handcuffs were used.
“The city has failed its responsibility to protect and educate young people of color,” said Johanna Miller, advocacy director at the NYCLU. “When we talk about school safety, we have to talk about the kids who are made to feel like they are entering a jail as a suspect rather than a classroom as a student. Students who are subject to arrest, handcuffing and force by NYPD officers are not safe in school, period.”
Over the last few months, students leading the movement against gun violence have called for “counselors not cops,” arguing that increased police presence in schools is not the solution to address school safety. In 2017, there were over 5,500 school safety officers and just 2,880 guidance counselors and 1,293 social workers across the district.