We examine recently released statistics that show more than 880 NYC students were arrested at public schools last year. Were minority students targeted?
A new report issued by the New York Civil Liberties Union indicates that the NYPD is making an average of around four arrests each day in New York City public schools. In addition, the police wrote around seven summons daily for students with less serious infractions. The report has been met with widespread concern, particularly in light of the fact that the large majority of students arrested were students of color. Is the NYPD exercising too much power in the public schools of the city, or are the police merely doing the job they were hired to do? The answer to that question appears to depend on who is asked.
Hundreds of Arrests on Record
The NYCLU recently released their report after conducting an analysis of police activity in the city’s public schools. The agency took advantage of a new city law to compile their report, which requires documentation and disclosure of school safety information, according to a report at SI Live. The report found that during the 2011-2012 school year, the police made a total of 882 arrests of students while the students were at school, with an additional 1,666 summonses issued.
Around 95 percent of the students arrested were black or Hispanic, despite the fact that students of color only make up around 71 percent of the total student population in the city. Of the minority students arrested, 63 percent were black students. Around 48 percent of the summonses issued were to students from the Bronx, according to The Grio. In addition, the report shows that around three-fourths of the students arrested were male. Approximate one-fifth of the arrests were of students between the ages of 11 and 14, which means 165 of the students arrested were just 14 or younger.
Reasons for Arrests
The reasons cited for the arrests varied, but the majority of the altercations were attributed to disorderly conduct or harassment. However, the NYCLU asserts that some of the “crimes” were much more minor.
“Rather than focusing on crimes, they’re focusing on horseplay,” Udi Ofer, advocacy director for the NYCLU, told CBS New York. “There are examples of students getting arrested for things like writing on their desk.”
Ofer added that discipline in schools today is too quickly handled by police officers than guidance counselors or school administrators.
“The bottom line is in too many circumstances, what used to be a walk to the principal’s office is now a walk in handcuffs to the local precinct,” Ofer explained.
Too Many Police?
One reason for the high number of arrests could have to do with the number of police officers in New York City schools today. The NYCLU pointed out to Reason.com that currently around 5,000 police officers are working in the schools. That number compares with 3,000 guidance counselors and 1,500 social workers. The NYCLU also questioned the wisdom of the schools to allow police to handle discipline issues, rather than members of the school staff.
“The first person who’s there to handle student behavior is actually a police officer, rather than a guidance counselor or rather than a social worker,” Ofer stated. “The police continues to be in the business of enforcing minor school discipline.”
Some are also voicing serious concern about the percentage of minority students that have been arrested in the previous year, since it appears to be much higher that the percentage of minority students in the school system overall. However, the NYPD insists that the officers working in the schools are performing their duties in an unbiased manner.
“The NYCLU’s kneejerk reaction to claim racism is as old as it is false,” the NYPD said in a released statement responding to the NYCLU’s report. “The NYCLU persists in smearing school safety agents and police officers who do good work professionally in an unbiased manner.”
Schools Paving the Way to Incarceration
Despite the reassurances by the NYPD that it is pretty much business as usual in the New York City schools, many are still concerned about the high number of arrests and are questioning whether this is the best way to handle discipline problems in the schools. The Huffington Post recently published an op-ed piece that dealt with the issue of student arrest in schools. The article listed five reasons why students are arrested at school:
- Teachers may not understand cultural differences of students
- Teachers may be afraid of some of their students
- Parents and educators have an inaccurate definition of “good” education
- Youth are overprotected from biases within the system
- Many students have not learned effective conflict resolution
The author of the piece also voiced concern over how some schools across the country are becoming too much like prison in the way they manage students to prevent behavior issues from occurring. Comparisons are even made between the outward appearance of school classrooms and prison cells. The article advises schools to begin focusing on raising up a generation of students that are independent thinkers who can express themselves, rather than quiet, passive students herded from one class to the next throughout the day.
While this assessment may or may not be an accurate one of the majority of schools across America today, the article does make another valid point in regards to arrests in public school today. When students become accustomed to uniformed officers yelling at them and even putting handcuffs on them during the school day, it takes something away from the authority these officers should exude in the “real world.” Students that become accustomed to the idea of incarceration at a young age may aspire to little else once they have completed their public education.
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