Board Approves Plan To Put NYPD in Charge of School Security
The New York City school board unanimously approved a controversial arrangement last week to put the city's police force in charge of hiring, firing, and training school security officers. The vote ended three years of often heated negotiations between Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who proposed the plan, and school leaders.
Despite contentions by civil rights groups and some educators that police department oversight would create a hostile atmosphere in the city schools, the board voted 7-0 to put the New York City Police Department in charge of the district's 3,200 school security officers.
When the policy takes effect in January, New York's police department will become what is believed to be the first municipal police force to be in charge of a school district's security team.
Under the plan, security officers eventually will be allowed to become city police officers, establishing a promotional ladder that the district argues will attract better employees.
There are no plans to add security officers--who don't carry guns--to patrol the more than 1,100 schools in the 1 million-student district. Currently, city police officers help patrol 130 schools in the city.
The mayor and school leaders agreed that transferring control to the police department would improve a school security team that has been a source of embarrassment in the past. Between 1990 and 1995, 320 officers were arrested on charges that ranged from sexual abuse of students and carrying weapons to loan sharking and selling narcotics, according to district records.
"This is a plan that will professionalize our school security force. ... It helps guarantee the kind of environment where teachers can teach and students can learn to the highest standards," Schools Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew said in a statement last week.
But some black leaders have argued that a police takeover would in fact disrupt the educational atmosphere for minority children who may already have tense relations with police.
The New York Civil Liberties Union denounced the board policy last week, saying that police presence at schools could threaten students' constitutional rights.
"Events that were previously handled in the context of the school disciplinary system may be escalated to the level of a law-enforcement problem by the mere presence of police-controlled security," the group said in a written statement.
And district leaders last week tried to reassure principals that a police-trained security force would not usurp their authority on campus.
"The principal is the final disciplinary authority, and that will remain the case except in emergency situations where a crime has been committed," said J.D. LaRock, a spokesman for the district.
Neill S. Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, the local teachers' union, said that while he wouldn't advocate giving the police "carte blanche to rummage around in student records," he largely applauded the new policy.
Joan Duffy, a former teacher at the 4,200-student James Madison High School in Brooklyn who retired after being mugged by a student at school in 1990, says she believes that any improvements in the security staff would be welcome.
"The training was very hit and miss," she said of security officers. "The security people hired [now] will be far better screened, which means you are going to get a better-quality person."
Vol. 18, Issue 3, Page 5