NYC School Safety Agents Down More Than 20%
Prior to the pandemic, there were about 5,000 safety agents assigned to NYC public schools. As of last month, that number dropped to 3,900.
NEW YORK CITY — The number of safety agents in New York City public schools has plummeted since the pandemic and there are no plans to replace them, according to a report released Tuesday by the Independent Budget Office (IBO).
In Feb. 2020, there were approximately 5,000 active NYPD school safety agents (SSAs). As of Feb. 2023, that number plummeted to 3,900. City Hall said the NYPD currently employs 4,100 SSAs and that an additional 250 trainees are slated to start in April.
However, NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ preliminary budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year calls for eliminating 282 vacant SSA positions in addition to 550 that were eliminated last year, according to Chalkbeat New York. In 2019, the city spent $395 million on SSAs. Next year’s proposal allocates $359 million.
Nicholas Martin, an education budget expert with the IBO, said there is also no indication the city plans to expand the safety division over the next four years.
“Just based on the budget for the remaining years of the financial plan, there’s no scaling back up,” he said. “It seems to indicate that the headcount is going to continue closer to this current level.”
Spokespeople for Adams and NYC schools Chancellor David Banks did not respond to questions from Chalkbeat about whether the decision against filling vacancies is due to a change in safety strategy or an inability to find enough new recruits willing to take the jobs, which offer a starting salary of $35,000.
Employed by the NYPD, SSAs are unarmed and largely responsible for monitoring entrances, responding to behavioral issues, and operating metal detectors. Under a 2019 agreement between the city Department of Education and the NYPD, SSAs are expected to take a more restrained approach to policing, such as not intervening in most low-level misconduct, using alternative responses to issuing arrests or summonses, and using the minimum amount of physical restraints necessary.
The role of SSAs in NYC schools has been the subject of debate for years, particularly since the start of the pandemic. Opponents believe having police in schools criminalizes student behavior and fuels the school-to-prison pipeline. Most critics also think funding for police should instead be redirected toward mental health services and other resources.
Supporters believe police in schools create order, minimize violence, and better protect students and staff from outside threats. NYC students, parents, and educators largely agree that SSAs keep schools safe and respectful, according to annual school surveys. However, students at predominantly Black schools are less likely to have a positive view of police in school.
As the debate continues, the rise in violence at NYC schools does as well. Three students have been killed so far in the 2022-23 school year and at least 20 have been stabbed or shot, reports The New York Post. Last month, the Post reported the NYPD increased its presence in schools amid a string of shootings and other acts of violence. On Feb. 9, Chief of Department Jeff Maddrey ordered all commanders to increase their youth coordination officer (YCO) units to six officers in each precinct across the five boroughs with a sergeant assigned to supervise each unit, according to a memo.
Maddrey also ordered police to be pulled from administrative duties to provide extra security during dismissals at “problematic schools.”
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