The uniformed Police Department employees who patrol New York City’s public schools in an effort to keep them safe are too quick to bully students over minor infractions, a civil rights group charged in a paper issued March 18.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said that in recent years it has received hundreds of complaints from both students and teachers about foul language, rough treatment, and unwarranted arrests by the NYPD’s 4,827 school safety agents.
The safety agents are civilian employees of the police department and don’t carry firearms. About 70 percent are women.
The group said the agents, whose duties include breaking up fights and operating metal detectors, also have improperly taken on the role of enforcing school rules—like the district’s unpopular ban on iPods and cell phones.
Donna Lieberman, the group’s executive director, said too many safety agents go about their job with an authoritarian zeal more appropriate for guards screening prisoners.
“They are treating our children like suspects,” she said. “Whatever its merits as a strategy for policing on the streets, it is entirely incompatible with education.”
Police Department spokesman Paul Browne called some of the report’s allegations insulting and baseless.
“The NYCLU has compiled a collection of uninformed and unsupported allegations about police presence in public schools,” Browne said in a statement.
The city is among a number of school districts around the country that have turned to a bigger police presence to get control of unruly students and crack down on serious cases of school violence.
Other cities have rejected the idea that police officers, especially armed ones, should have a presence in school corridors.
Since the police department assumed responsibility for school safety in 1998, Browne said, violent incidents in the schools are down 20 percent and major crime is down 33 percent.
The civil liberties group’s report documented several instances where minor disputes between safety agents or in-school police officers had escalated into arrests of students, and even of some school staff.
In one case, the principal of a Bronx high school reportedly was arrested on charges that he tried to stop a police officer from arresting a 16-year-old girl who had mouthed off in a hall.
The city Department of Education said such clashes are extremely rare.
“During the past three years we have restored safe teaching and learning environments to many of the city’s most disorderly schools, and our strategy has become a national and international model,” spokeswoman Dina Paul Parks said in a statement.
New York Civil Liberties Union
“Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools”
New York City Department of Education