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New Data Show Outsized Police Role and Racial Disparities in School Discipline

The New York Civil Liberties Union released an analysis today of New York City school safety data showing that, although schools are safer and fewer students are being arrested, more must be done to eliminate severe racial disparities and to limit NYPD involvement in school discipline. The NYCLU’s analysis of NYPD data from the first half of 2016 shows that 90.9 percent of arrests were of Black or Latino students. Precinct-based police officers are responsible for the vast majority of arrests and summonses rather than school safety officers, many of whom have been specially trained in recent years to de-escalate conflict and support the school environment.    “As summonses and arrests of students go down and school safety goes up, it is clear that the frequent reliance on aggressive discipline is unnecessary and is especially harmful to Black and Latino students,” said NYCLU Executive Director, Donna Lieberman. “We expect our schools to be safe and supportive for all our children.” The NYCLU’s analysis comes as New York and the nation brace for efforts by the incoming Trump administration to dismantle our system of public education and resurrect regressive approaches to criminal justice. Mr. Trump has tapped Betsy DeVos for education secretary, who favors diverting taxpayer dollars from public schools to private and religious institutions. And he has repeatedly pushed for “law and order” in cities, including invasive stop-and-frisk policing. These outdated and ineffective approaches fuel mass incarceration and fracture relationships between police and communities they serve. These approaches would also reverse recent gains. Three months ago, then-NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina announced that city public schools had experienced a 35 percent decrease in index crime over five years. At the same time, aggressive enforcement actions against students dropped. Compared with 2015, the number of arrests of children had decreased 10 percent and the number of summonses issued to children had dropped 37 percent.    While that decline is welcome, students who are arrested or given summonses are almost exclusively children of color. Black and Latino students make up 90.9 percent of the students arrested in the first half of 2016 and 92.7 percent of those given summonses. Only 3.2 and 1.6 percent of students arrested or given a summons respectively are white. The data shows students are most frequently given summonses for “disorderly conduct,” which is often simply minor misbehavior by children and does not constitute a criminal act.   The NYPD data shows that the police responsible for the majority of arrests (61.8 percent) and summonses (65 percent) are precinct officers, not school safety officers. While the School Safety Division has made practical changes to limit its involvement in school discipline, the rest of the police department has not. That means precinct-based officers with no specialized training enter schools and arrest children without regard for the impact on school climate. The NYCLU recommends that a memorandum of understanding be adopted to ensure that all NYPD personnel in schools operate in a manner consistent with the best interests of children and to limit arrests and summonses to extreme cases.   Under amendments to the Student Safety Act passed in 2015, the NYPD must now report data on the use of handcuffs. These numbers show that students were placed in handcuffs 1,210 times this year and that, students were nearly always placed in metal handcuffs rather than Velcro restraints. Black and Latino students made up 92.8 percent of students who were handcuffed. The analysis also shows that children who were placed under arrest were put in handcuffs 92.3 percent of the time.   Black and Latino students also made up nearly 100 percent of all mental health emergencies in which the police were called, and every time the NYPD was asked to respond to these crises, children were placed in handcuffs. There is also evidence that authorities are handcuffing children in an effort to de-escalate situations, and not only when there is imminent danger.    “It would appear that any time a Black or Latino student is having a mental health crisis, schools’ first response is to call the cops,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director, Johanna Miller. “There is never a reason to handcuff a child when what they really need is a guidance counselor or a mental health professional.”

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