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Published in Print: March 15, 2000, as Crime Drops Since NYPD Takeover of School Security

Crime Drops Since NYPD Takeover of School Security

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Crime has dropped in the New York City public schools since the New York Police Department took over security for the board of education, according to police statistics.

In the 15 months since the NYPD began managing the system's 3,300 school security officers, few of the concerns registered about the changeover appear to have materialized.

Two of the most vocal groups that had been worried about the arrangement—the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—have been mostly silent and say they have done little monitoring since the takeover.

But "the jury is still out," said Jim Baumann, the director of school safety for the United Federation of Teachers.

In 1998, the city's central board of education agreed to the new arrangement after the mayor and school leaders agreed that transferring control to the police department would improve school security.

Civil rights groups and many educators opposed the measure. Some feared the creation of a hostile environment in the schools. Others worried that the school security officers, under the auspices of the police department, would usurp the authority of school administrators.

The police department set up meetings with leaders of school communities to reassure them that police-trained security personnel would not encroach on their authority. And, for the most part, they have not, said Assistant Chief James H. Lawrence, the commanding officer of the school safety division for the New York Police Department.

James H. Lawrence

The administrators have the same authority as they did before, Chief Lawrence said. "We're really like a last resort."

Change in Attitude?

While New York's school security officers are now called agents, much about the school security force has remained unchanged.

The police department embarked on training just before the new year to familiarize the school agents with the NYPD's operations and procedures. Ongoing training is planned for the winter, spring, and summer recesses.

Edward Reynolds, the principal of West Side High School in Manhattan, had predicted that police in schools would cause real problems, but those troubles haven't arisen, he said.

"There haven't been a lot of changes," said Mr. Reynolds, who heads an alternative school with about 700 students. In fact, he has tried to use the takeover to break down stereotypes harbored by some of his students that all police are bad, and by some police officers that all teenagers are bad.

But the officers are not as friendly as they once were, said Charyl Poindexter-Curry, a dean at West Side High. She said the mentality is to arrest a student rather than pull him or her aside and offer a reprimand.

"The attitudes are little more punitive," she said.

Data Discrepancies

Meanwhile, crime is down.

"There's been a drop in criminal incidence systemwide," Chief Lawrence said.

Based on numbers compiled by the police department, between last July and this month, crimes such as assault, burglary, and weapons possessions are down by nearly 30 percent. Other infractions, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, and harassment, have dropped by at least 10 percent.

According to the teachers' union, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate, the number of unsafe public schools in New York City and the number of violent incidents involving teachers and other educators dropped during the 1998-99 school year. The total incident rate involving UFT members fell 19.5 percent, but assaults increased by nearly 15 percent, the union says. In large part, Mr. Baumann of the UFT believes, the discrepancies are due to the different ways in which the police and union define and categorize crime.

For example, even though a bona fide assault has occurred, it won't show up that way on the police blotter if no complaint was filed or no charges were pressed, Mr. Baumann said. "Either you don't get accurate reporting [by not filing a complaint] or you further criminalize students [if you do]," he said.

Moreover, overall crime in schools is down nationwide. So it is hard to say whether the drop in school crime can be attributed to the NYPD takeover, Mr. Baumann said.

Both Chief Lawrence and Mr. Baumann acknowledge the problem of differing statistics and say they are trying to work it out.

"We need to find a way to reconcile data so that everyone is on the same page," Mr. Baumann said.

Chief Lawrence said his department has found a way to reconcile its data with the board of education's, but not the union's. "We should all be working toward the same goal," he said.

Agents Added

The UFT recently called on the city to add 1,000 new school safety officers to the payroll, citing a recent rash of attacks on its teachers.

In response, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani approved the hiring of 900 new officers for next school year. The new crop of prospective security agents will face much more thorough background investigations than were undertaken prior to the NYPD takeover.

Many of the newly hired officers will be placed in grade schools and be used to back up agents in schools in high-crime neighborhoods, truancy operations, and schools that are difficult to secure with limited personnel, Chief Lawrence said.

While the union appreciates the expertise and sense of professionalism the NYPD has brought to the school security officers, Mr. Baumann said, it is still too early to tell just what impact the changes have had.

Chief Lawrence agreed. "This is a work in progress,'' he said. "We're still working our way through, trying to come up with that perfect chemistry."

Vol. 19, Issue 27, Page 6

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