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NYPD school police citations draw criticism

More than 70 percent of court citations for disorderly conduct

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 Updated:

Previously undisclosed school police records from New York City are raising new concerns about students getting heavily ticketed for vague allegations of disorderly conduct.   

More than 70 percent of court summonses issued to New York City school students between January and the end of March this year were for disruptive behavior, according to a new analysis released by the American Civil Liberties Union of New York this week.

“The high percentage of disorderly conduct charges — a catchall category that could encompass all kinds of typical misbehavior — indicates that NYPD officers are getting involved in non-criminal disciplinary incidents,” said Udi Ofer, the ACLU New York’s advocacy director, in a statement.  The NYPD took control of school safety in 1998. Armed officers are assigned to patrol schools, along with thousands of school safety officers who are unarmed but have the authority to search and arrest students.

The ACLU’s concerns mirror a burgeoning nationwide debate over the proper role of school police, and whether officers are intervening too often in matters that used to be settled in school without handcuffs or court citations.

For example, newly released data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity showed that school police in Los Angeles have been issuing thousands of court citations each year to students, including 11 and 12-year-olds, for disturbing-the-peace offenses, including scuffles at school. 

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is scrutinizing those citations in the Los Angeles Unified School District as part of a review of discipline-policy changes that the district was required to submit to the federal office.

The ACLU’s analysis in New York found that school police officers issued court citations to 555 students between January and March of this year, and arrested 327 students. Sixty-four percent of arrests were of black students, who are only 31 percent of enrollment, prompting the ACLU to question if school police are harsher with ethnic-minority students. 

An ethnic breakdown for citations was not available.

The data analyzed by the ACLU are the third round of school-related numbers that New York City police are now obliged to release under the city’s Student Safety Act, which was approved in 2011. Public outcry over allegations of abusive police behavior in public schools has led to controversy over the role of officers.

After analyzing two previous rounds of figures released by police, the ACLU called for an audit of incidents at school that led to police involvement. The group is also urging a look into how students who’ve been cited or arrested subsequently fare in school.

In response to the ACLU’s stance, New York police issued a statement earlier this year defending the force’s record in schools and crediting officers with cutting the rate of felonies committed in schools to 801 last year compared to 1,577 in 2001, more than a decade ago. The ACLU “talks about arrests in schools but, conveniently, not crimes.” NYPC Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said in a statement. The cut in felonies, Brown said, is due to the “good work of dedicated school safety officers and police officers.”

The ACLU is also suing the New York City schools and police on behalf of students claiming excessive force, handcuffing and being arrested or locked in seclusion by school safety officers.  One of the plaintiffs was arrested by a school officer when she was in 6th grade; she was searched, handcuffed and fingerprinted at a police precinct, according to the 2010 lawsuit, which is still pending.  

The 6th grade girl and a classmate, who was also arrested, had drawn lines on their desks in a game and were about to erase them when an officer intervened and accused them of doing graffiti, according to the suit. 

As part of a look into Los Angeles’ citations, the Center interviewed the parents of a Los Angeles 7th grade student who was arrested and ordered to appear in full delinquency court after a first-time scuffle at his school. He was handcuffed, taken from school and booked at a police station despite his father’s urging that school administrators handle the incident as a discipline matter. 

More than 40 percent of these citations issued in Los Angeles over the last three years were to students 14 and younger.  Juvenile judges in Los Angeles are now questioning the wisdom of summoning students to court for low-level offenses; a growing amount of research is showing that putting kids into the criminal-justice system actually increases their risk of getting into trouble and dropping out of school.

The Center found that the rate of citations issued by Los Angeles school police to students 18 and younger was about 30 a day, based on a full calendar year. That surpasses the citation rate in New York City students of about six per day, also based on a full calendar. 

With more than 1 million students, New York City’s district is the nation’s largest school district. Los Angeles’ is the second largest with about 670,000 pupils.