He uses this statement to describe the kinds of things that students do that can get them into trouble: fighting, smoking, wearing disruptive clothing, cutting class or unexcused absences, setting off alarms, misusing school property, gambling, and even "engaging in verbally rude or disrespectful behavior", something that teens can do with regularity. These are behaviors that school personnel are trained to deal with and often do so very effectively. However, since 1998, overall responsibility for school safety has been in the hands of the NYPD, primarily through its School Safety Division. These officers are in charge of security, such as building access, and can also get involved in incidents of student misbehavior either because they witness them or because school administrators seek their involvement. It is important to note that School Safety Officers receive special training in dealing with students and generally are familiar with a particular school and its students.
A major issue with having the NYPD in charge of school discipline is that it perpetuates the “school-to-prison pipeline,” described by the American Civil Liberties Union as "a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems." In recent years, arrests by School Safety Officers have declined. As noted in a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) looking at the 20017-18 school year, School Safety Officers"were responsible for less than 20% of arrests and just 5% of summonses." The report stressed, however, that regular NYPD officers "who are not members of the School Safety Division continue to arrest kids with near total discretion" and that "369 arrests in schools (32% of the total) were for alleged incidents that occurred off school grounds and had no relationship to the school, indicating that the NYPD is using schools as a place to locate and arrest young people."
There is also substantial racial disparity in the students who are arrested and in the use of handcuffs, even when an incident doesn't ultimately result in an arrest. These are laid out clearly in the charts in the NYCLU report.
All of this serves as background to a new agreement which will go into effect when schools open in the fall. This Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the NYC Department of Education, the NYPD, and the City of New York is designed for "keeping schools safe places of learning; ensuring that discipline is administered fairly; eliminating disparities and inconsistencies in the punishment of students, and eliminating the use of summons and arrests for minor school misbehavior while continuing to advance school safety."
Among the changes in policy and practice set forth in the MOU are:
- Police officers should not arrest or issue summons to students "whenever possible" for "low level" offenses such as disorderly conduct, graffiti, or possession of marijuana.
- School staff are not to involve either the School Safety Officers or the NYPD when students commit infractions such as clothing violations, cutting class, lateness, smoking, lying, or gambling (unless they can't be handled safely).
- Both School Safety Officers and the NYPD, to the full extent practicable, in instances not requiring immediate arrest or other immediate action, shall consult with the principal of a school prior to placing a student under arrest, or issuing to such student any form of criminal process on school grounds. Further, in the course of any such consultation, officers shall take into account any information provided by the principal.
- Limits will be placed on use of handcuffs.
- Both School Safety Officers and NYPD officers will receive additional training in areas relevant to dealing with students.