An agreement that regulates NYPD activity in New York City's public schools that top city officials have for six years denied has come to light.

NYPD and New York City Department of Education (DOE) officials have repeatedly stated that a 1998 legal agreement defining the NYPD's role in city schools expired in 2002 and was never renewed. A recent inquiry by Assemblyman Karim Camara, however, revealed that Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein had in fact renewed the agreement in 2003. The agreement remains in effect, though it appears the DOE and NYPD have failed to meet their obligations under it.

“This agreement provides a foundation for school safety policies that affect millions of the city's schoolchildren every day,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “That the DOE and NYPD would continually deny its existence is both baffling and indicative of their confused, inconsistent and misguided approach to policing our schools.”

In 1998, the Board of Education (BOE) entered into a formal legal agreement called a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. This MOU transferred school safety responsibilities from the DOE to the NYPD. The agreement established a Joint Committee appointed by the mayor and schools chancellor charged with ensuring the effectiveness of school safety practices and preparing annual evaluations of school safety programs. By its terms, the agreement was set to expire in 2002 unless the Joint Committee recommended extending it.

But on January 22, 2003, Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein and an attorney for the city signed a legal document extending the legal agreement. The DOE and NYPD have repeatedly denied that the MOU exists but the document came to light this month when Camara inquired about it as part of the pending legislative debate over whether to extend mayoral control of the schools.

The NYCLU sent a letter late Wednesday to Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly documenting several occasions in which NYPD and DOE officials publicly denied the agreement's existence. For example:

  • During a May 4, 2007 meeting with NYCLU staff, NYPD Chief Douglas Ziegler stated that the 1998 MOU expired in 2002, and that mayoral control made a new agreement unnecessary.
  • On October 10, 2007, Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm testified at a City Council hearing: “To the best of my knowledge there was no joint committee that met and recommended a renewal of that MOU… there is no written MOU.”
  • In June 2006, the NYCLU filed a public records request with the NYPD and DOE for documents governing the relationship between the two agencies in school safety matters. The NYPD responded with a copy of the 1998 MOU, but did not provide a copy of the 2003 extension. The DOE ignored the FOIL request.

It is unclear whether the Joint Committee established in the agreement is fulfilling its obligation to prepare an annual evaluation of school safety practices. It is also appears that the city has not complied with the agreement's mandate that school principals be given a role in training school safety officers and that educators be responsible for enforcing school-based discipline.

“The MOU is deeply flawed and should be revised to recognize principals' authority over what goes on in the schools,” Lieberman said. “But even worse than a flawed agreement is a system with rules nobody knows about.”

Since taking control of school safety in 1998, mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg assigned more than 5,000 school safety agents and at least 200 armed police officers to the city's public schools. This massive presence makes the NYPD's school safety division larger than all but four of the nation's police forces – larger than Washington DC, Detroit, Boston or Las Vegas. That massive, unchecked presence creates an inhospitable environment that often leads to the mistreatment of students and educators.

Under this regime, students have gotten arrested and hauled out of school in handcuffs for minor disciplinary issues. Even principals have been arrested.

“When the NYPD's top brass and the DOE's highest ranking officials don't know what's happening, we shouldn't be surprised that police personnel are operating in such a confused manner in our schools,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer. “We have a serious problem on our hands and our children are paying the price.”