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NYPD opens books on arrests in public schools

Police arrested or ticketed an average of four public school students a day — and that was during the summer

NYPD cars

Photo: Iain Browne/Flickr

Police arrested or ticketed an average of four public school students a day in New York City between July and September this year.

For the first time, the NYPD has released information on the number of arrests, summonses and non-criminal incidents involving the department’s School Safety Division, officers who are assigned full time to Department of Education facilities. It was released in accordance with reporting standards of the recently enacted Student Safety Act, a city law requiring quarterly reports from the police to the public.

According to the records the School Safety Division carried out 63 arrests and issued 182 summonses during the reporting period. The period surveyed covered the summer months in New York and included only 43 school days for the middle schools and 50 days for the high schools – far fewer school days than usually included in a three month timeframe.

The release of school arrest data comes as the Department of Education reports declining violence and other crimes in New York public schools. The incidence of “major crimes” fell nearly 5 percent between 2010 and 2011, according to the the Mayor’s Management Report. Totals for the seven major crimes — including assault, burglary, robbery and rape — fell from 839 to 801.

Brooklyn led the city in arrests, with 19 students held, including a 12-year-old charged with assault. In the Bronx, five students were arrested for felonious assault, including one attack on a police officer. In southern Queens, five students were arrested for criminal possession of a weapon.

Of the 182 summonses issued, 99 of them were for disorderly conduct. Another 53 were administrative summonses not requiring a court appearance. The NYPD also recorded 380 unspecified “non-criminal incidents.” The Bronx led for disorderly conduct, with 49 citations out of 70 summonses.

The law defines “disorderly conduct” broadly. It could include talking loudly, jeering, or causing public nuisance “with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof.” Protesters, including many of those arrested in connection with Occupy Wall Street, are commonly charged with disorderly conduct.

Although a disorderly conduct summons is a low-level criminal offense and a juvenile charged won’t technically have a criminal record, the young person may be required to make a court appearance. The maximum penalty is a 10-day stay in jail; offenders may alternatively receive a ticket, a sentence of community service, or no penalty at all.

Juvenile justice advocates welcomed the release of the information, while raising questions about the heavy representation of black and Latino students among those arrested or cited. The new data indicates that 94 percent of students arrested were black or Latino, and 100 percent in Brooklyn and Staten Island. Black and Latino children make up 29 percent and 40 percent of the overall public school population in New York City.

“This report provides the first glimpse into what the NYPD is doing in our schools,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Advocacy Director Udi Ofer in a statement. “Instead of arresting students who need the most help, the Bloomberg adminstration should redirect resources from police to services that support student achievement.”

An NYPD spokesperson was not available for comment. Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said, “We want to ensure a safe and nurturing learning environment for our students to achieve academic success — and major crime in our schools has gone down 49 percent since 2001. But we’ll also be taking a close look at the data—as we are with our suspension data — to examine disparities in race and ethnicity and working to ensure schools are providing the appropriate support and counseling to students.”

Yet the NYCLU and other observers of the police and education system see the released data as missing crucial detail necessary for further scrutiny of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s safe schools policy. For example, data on race or ethnicity was only released for arrested students, not those who received summonses. Because the NYPD released schools data by borough or half-borough areas, it is impossible to compare the frequency of arrests and summonses among black and Latino students with their representation in the population of a given school or district.

Kim Nauer, education project director for Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, says she welcomes the information release but that more detail is necessary to make it really useful. “It’s just not specific enough to work out what’s going on, on an individual school level,” she said. “We have no way of breaking down incidents, even by precinct, and that’s disappointing.”

Additionally, the data only includes incidents including NYPD staff who are assigned to specific school buildings, rather than anything involving precinct staff who are often called to assist the School Safety Officers. This means it’s unclear if the data includes non-student arrests on school premises, or NYPD arrests made by general officers on the premises.

Nauer also expressed concern about the prevalence of disorderly conduct summonses. “It’s a broad sweeping catch-all offense that is left to the discretion of any individual officer,” she said. “If the kids were really doing something wrong, then they should be arrested with burglary, or trespass or assault.”