NEW YORK—Most of us are used to going through metal detectors at times, such as before embarking on a plane trip, or going into a high-profile building.
Yet going through a metal detector is the beginning of every school day for many students in New York City.
A coalition of students, organizations, and elected officials on Wednesday gathered to protest numbers released showing 279 arrests and 532 summonses occurred during the fourth quarter of 2011—Oct. 1 to Dec. 31—in schools.
At One Police Plaza, outside of the NYPD’s headquarters, the coalition said the number of arrests and summonses are too high, and show an extension of what they say is racial profiling conducted citywide through stop-and-frisk searches.
Racial statistics aren’t kept for summonses. Out of 279 arrests, 167 were blacks. Three-quarters were male.
“Time is long past due for meaningful oversight of school disciplinary practices, and that should start with city council hearings, and an independent audit … and a reassessment of the role of the NYPD in our public schools,” said Donna Lieberman, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) executive director.
The NYPD’s School Safety Division has approximately 5,320 school safety agents for the 441,300 middle- and high-school students. Legislation passed in December 2010 requires the department provide quarterly statistics on arrests and summonses in and around schools.
“Felonies in schools dropped from 1,577 in 2001 to 801 last year,” Paul Browne, NYPD deputy commissioner, said in a statement. “That 50 percent reduction in serious crime was made through the good work of dedicated school safety officers and police officers.”
Maishah Salan, a 16-year-old senior at Hillside Arts and Letters Academy in Queens, said that the safety agents and metal detectors detrimentally affect the students in her area.
“I remember in middle school there used to be like one cop for the whole school and we didn’t have any problems then,” said Salan. “Because of zero-tolerance policies they started suspending kids for no reason [other than minor violations]. It’s just a downward spiral.”
Metal detectors often create lines of students, she said, forcing them to arrive more than half an hour before their class starts just so they can make it through the line in time for class.
Both Salan and Councilman Danny Dromm pointed out that schools have more safety agents than guidance counselors, which seems to place more importance on discipline than education.
The Department of Education asked on the phone that questions be emailed to them, but didn’t answer the emailed questions.
Councilman Robert Jackson said that everyone, not only the NYPD, must collectively work to bring a more positive environment into schools.The coalition wants clearer school safety and discipline methods, such as restorative justice, which emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment.
“What we find is that schools that are most successful at handling this behavior without criminalizing students make education a priority, rather than policing,” said Angela Jones, coordinator of the School to Prison Pipeline Project for of the NYCLU. “They see young people as having potential rather than being potential criminals.”