The NYPD issued new school safety data today on the use of handcuffs and metal detectors in schools, and the number of arrests made by NYPD officers on school grounds, as required by amendments to the Student Safety Act passed last year.
“We now know that racial disparities in our criminal justice system start in public school,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Incidents like the one caught on video of an NYPD officer beating a student with his baton show the devastating harm and educational disruption caused by abusive police officers who are supposed to protect children. Schools should make kids feel safe and nurtured, not like they’re in prison.”
During the 2014-2015 school year, 1,555 students were arrested in schools. An additional 436 students were arrested from January to March of 2016, putting the NYPD on track to make the same number of arrests this school year. The city also released data that show NYPD arrests are down significantly since the 2010-2011 school year when 3,133 students were arrested. At the same time, city schools are safer than they have been in a decade, with NYPD data indicating that crime has dropped over 50 percent since 2004.
The vast majority of police encounters with students are for misdemeanors or noncriminal violations of the administrative code. The data also show that almost 700 students were handcuffed during the first quarter of 2016, including 83 instances of using handcuffs on emotionally disturbed children and another 161 instances where a student was handcuffed but not arrested.
And similar to street policing, racial disparities in school-based arrests are severe. It appears that nearly all police encounters were with students of color.
For years, schoolchildren in New York City have been subjected to overly punitive school discipline policies that push students out of school, increase drop-out rates and unfairly impact students of color and those with special needs. Rather than creating a safe, supportive and nurturing environment in city schools, the over-reliance on arrests and suspensions contributed to a School to Prison Pipeline for students of color and denied many schoolchildren their right to an education.
The new data come the same day the city announced support for changes to the discipline code, drawn from recommendations from the School Climate Leadership Team, that will ban suspensions for students in Kindergarten through second grade, and a recommendation to adopt a memorandum of understanding that limits the authority of school safety officers to interfere in student discipline issues. But the reforms also need to be applied to precinct-based NYPD officers, who are responsible for nearly all arrests and summonses in schools and their resulting harms, and who are excluded from the reforms.
“The NYCLU commends the city for taking these important steps, but much remains to be done to make city schools the safe and supportive environment for learning that every child deserves. With school crime plummeting, we need to shut off the School to Prison Pipeline completely and reinvest in students’ futures,” said Lieberman.
Even as the city makes progress, there is a need for more resources, like additional mental health professionals, to work with misbehaving children. The ratio of counselors to students in the city is 322 to 1, higher than the recommended 250 to 1 ratio. The ratio of School Safety Division officers to students, meanwhile, is 192 to 1.
“If the city needs new revenue sources to support positive discipline in schools, it’s time to re-examine its use of school safety dollars. Hundreds of millions spent on cops could be re-invested in restorative and supportive resources that schools desperately need,” said Johanna Miller, advocacy director at the NYCLU. “No one wins when a student is arrested for a minor offense. It doesn’t help the student and it doesn’t help the school.”