NYCLU, ACLU Report Calls for End to Over-Policing in New York City Schools

Published: March 18, 2007

NEW YORK – The massive and aggressive police presence in public schools has transformed New York City classrooms into hostile and dysfunctional environments that are damaging to students and disempower educators, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report released March 18.

“Children have the right to learn in a safe environment, but making schools feel like jails promotes neither learning nor safety,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. “In New York City schools today, police personnel routinely curse at children, threaten them with arrest for minor infractions of school rules, confiscate their school supplies and lunches, and ignore and disrespect the authority of educators. The problem starts at the top. It’s time for the Department of Education to take back responsibility for school safety and create a mechanism to hold police personnel accountable for misconduct directed at our children.”

The report, “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools,” examines the origins and the consequences of the city’s aggressive policing operation in schools. It provides analyses of the results of a broad student survey and profiles of individual students whose experiences illuminate the problems with policing in schools.

“Every day 93,000 New York City school children are forced by the police department to undergo extreme security measures with no probable cause or means for redress,” said Elora Mukerjee, ACLU Karpatkin Fellow and author of the report. “If you treat children like criminals, they will fulfill those expectations. The stakes are too high to allow these policies to continue.”

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Policing in New York City schools has generated enormous controversy in the past decade. Since the New York Police Department took control of school safety in 1998, the number of police personnel in schools, and the extent of their activity, has skyrocketed. At the start of the 2005-2006 school year the police department employed 4,625 School Safety Agents; in addition, more than 200 armed police officers were assigned exclusively to schools. The NYPD’s School Safety Division alone constitutes the tenth largest police force in the country.

In New York and in the rest of the country, the burden of over-policing in schools falls primarily on the schools with permanent metal detectors, the NYCLU and the ACLU said. These schools are attended by the most vulnerable children, who are disproportionately poor, Black and Latino.

“The school-to-prison pipeline is a very disturbing trend in public education and the consequences will have grave ramifications for our children’s future,” said Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “More and more children of color are being treated as delinquents and shunted out of the school system and into the criminal justice system. The over-policing of New York City schools is just one example of this phenomenon.”

To produce the report the NYCLU and the Racial Justice Program of the ACLU conducted 1,000 student surveys and analyzed publicly available data. The organizations also interviewed students, teachers, school administrators, families, former Board of Education and Department of Education, United Federation of Teachers officials and New York Police Department officers.

“It used to take me an extra hour and a half to wait on line for the scans, so I would have to leave my home really early in the morning and then wait forever on the sidewalk outside of school,” said Ryan Kierstedt, an 18-year-old student from Bushwick who transferred to Urban Academy after attending East Borough Congregate High School in East New York. “The scans make you feel like an animal, like less of a person. You even start to become suspicious of yourself, because the officers treat you like a criminal.”

The organizations offer a series of recommendations for reform. Key among them is that the authority to determine safety measures in schools must be restored to school administrators, not left in the hands of the police department. The report demonstrates why school safety personnel must be specifically trained to function in the unique environment of the city school system. In addition, the role of police personnel must be limited to the enforcement of laws and the protection of students’ safety – not creating and enforcing random disciplinary rules. The report’s final recommendation is that students, families and educators must be given meaningful mechanisms, including access to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, to report wrongdoing by school-based police personnel.

Student profiles and “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools” are available online at


NYCLU, ACLU press release

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