New York City

NYC announces its first overhaul of how police operate inside schools since Mayor Giuliani

June 20, 2019 Alex Zimmerman, Chalkbeat NY
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza chats with school safety agents on Staten Island. Photo by Alex Zimmerman/Chalkbeat

After years of delays, top city officials have reached an agreement to overhaul the way the New York City Police Department operates in schools for the first time since Mayor Rudy Giuliani was in office.

The new agreement, set to be announced Thursday, is meant to limit the situations in which police officials can send students into the criminal justice system for relatively low-level offenses. The agreement also discourages school officials from making referrals to the police for minor misbehavior.

The changes mark a major move away from the zero-tolerance policies that dominated the city’s approach to school discipline when the agreement was created. The document — which governs police involvement in school security and formally handed the police department authority over roughly 5,000 school safety agents — was supposed to be updated every four years, but has never been revised.

Among the biggest changes, the new agreement says that police officials should not arrest or summons students “whenever possible” for low-level offenses such as marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, spitting, or graffiti. It also limits school staff from calling school safety agents for infractions like uniform violations, cutting class, lateness, smoking, lying, or gambling — as long as they can be addressed “safely.”

Some advocates said the new agreement is a big step in dialing back police presence in schools. Though arrests and summonses have fallen in recent years, the vast majority are issued to black and Hispanic students.

“There’s still a lot of discretion baked in, but what you’re seeing is the school safety division give up their authority to arrest in every situation, and that’s big coming from the NYPD,” said Johanna Miller, an education policy expert at the New York Civil Liberties Union who participated on a mayoral task force to revise the agreement.

“This [agreement] addresses some of the biggest contributors to arrests in schools and should reduce them dramatically,” she added.

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