School Climate & Safety

The Nation’s Largest District Saw an Increase in Policing at Schools Last Year

By Eesha Pendharkar — February 17, 2023 6 min read
Close up of a police barricade with school kids blurred in the background.
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In New York City public schools, the nation’s largest school district, police arrested, detained, and walked students out of school more frequently last year compared to pre-pandemic times.

Overall, the number of incidents involving police of some kind in New York City schools in 2022 increased by 14 percent when compared to 2019—the last time students were in classrooms full time before 2022.

Amid a national debate on the involvement of police in schools, and what that means for student safety, particularly Black and Hispanic students, these numbers from New York City are further proof that police presence continues to disproportionately disadvantage minority students, who are arrested and removed from school more frequently than their white counterparts.

In 2022, there were 13,012 police interventions in the New York City district, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union analysis. In 2019, the last full year when students were in school, there were 11,439 incidents reported. The 2022 numbers not only indicate an increase from pre-pandemic numbers, but also from a partially in-person school year in 2021, during there were 5,251 police interventions. (New York City schools reopened without a remote option for students Sept. 2021.)

These police interventions disproportionately involved Black and Hispanic students, according to an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union of the Student Safety Act data, which is data documenting police interventions every quarter by the New York City Police Department.

Eighty seven percent of all interventions in 2022 involved Black or Hispanic students, while they make up about two thirds percent of the population.

Interventions can mean students face school discipline such as in or out-of-school suspensions. They can also be handcuffed, removed from school by police and taken to a hospital for psychological evaluation, be detained until police complete their investigation, or even be arrested.

The data from 2022—the NYPD records data by calendar, not academic, year—shows a steep increase in police interventions from 2021 to 2022. That’s especially concerning considering that New York City schools saw an 11 percent drop in enrollment in that period, according to Johanna Miller, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Education Policy Center.

“That’s troubling because the enrollment is down, so why is there more police activity in schools?” Miller said. “There’s not a documented reason for the increase.”

The increase in interventions does not seem to be a result of violent or dangerous student behavior, she said.

“The reason that I say that—and I can say that with confidence—is that there wasn’t an increase in arrests. Even for younger kids, they could be arrested on really serious charges,” Miller said.

“So that tells me that the situation in schools is not getting more dangerous. But the responses are getting more severe.”

The New York City Police Department and the New York City department of education did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The types of police interventions

The impact of police in schools, specifically school resource officers, is hard to gauge, but some research suggests that while school police do mitigate certain kinds of violence in schools, their presence also leads to more disciplinary actions such as suspensions and expulsions, as well as arrests. However, the disproportionate impact on Black and other minority students is clear: In 43 states and the District of Columbia, Black students were arrested at school at disproportionately high levels—sometimes at shockingly high rates, Education Week found.

An analysis of police violence against students in schools last month analyzing police assaults, including physical violence and sexual assault, from 2011 to 2021, added to the mounting evidence that the presence of law enforcement negatively impacts students of color disproportionately.

In 2022, there were 13,012 police interventions in the New York City district, according to the NYCLU analysis. That is an increase from 2021, during which there were 5,251. It’s also a 14 percent increase from pre-pandemic schooling, all while enrollment continues to decline.

While New York City schools reopened in the fall of 2020 for part time learning, most students opted to attend school remotely. In Sept. 2021, New York City schools fully reopened for the first time after an 18-month remote or hybrid schedule.

Police interventions can involve school safety officers, New York City’s version of school resource officers, or police assigned specifically to schools, or they can involve regular NYPD police officers that are not specifically stationed in schools.

New York City employs at least 4,400 school safety agents, far more than are assigned to any other public school district in the country. The district serves about 1 million students.

The disproportionate impact of NYPD interventions on Black and Hispanic students

New York City’s data is further proof of this nationwide trend. Eighty seven percent of all students involved in police interventions in 2022 were Black or Hispanic, while these students made up about two thirds of the student body.

This number is increasing despite a 7.5 percent decrease in enrollment in New York City Public Schools for Black students, and a 4.5 percent decrease for Hispanic students.

“Those are also the two groups where there’s been the biggest declines in enrollment in New York City,” Miller said. “So the number of Black and Hispanic students is getting smaller, but the number of them who are involved in police incidents is getting bigger.”

In contrast, only 6 percent of students involved in police interventions were white in 2022, whereas almost 15 percent of the enrolled students are white.

The same two groups of students were also arrested at a disproportionately high rate, making up 88 percent of arrests. Among students put in restraints, or handcuffs, 96 percent were Black or Hispanic, which is an increase of more than 9 percent since last year. In comparison, 1 percent of students handcuffed by NYPD or school safety officers in schools were white.

The disproportionate impact was also evident in juvenile reports, which means an arrest equivalent for a student younger than 16 (although younger students can be arrested on serious charges).

Eighty five percent of those interventions involved Black or Hispanic students. Finally, 90 percent of child in crisis interventions involved these two student populations. Child in crisis interventions means police taking the student in question out of school because of mental or behavioral health issues, and to a hospital for psychological evaluations. For some of the above cases, police can use handcuffs.

Changes in the types of police interventions are not encouraging

For years, NYPD data showed an increase in mitigations—which means police showed up but did not take action against a student—and instead referred them to the school to decide further disciplinary action, as well as a decrease in arrests.

That’s positive because mitigations mean the police intervention did not result in taking the student away from school. Keeping students in school is the most desirable outcome for them, Miller said.

While arrests still decreased by less than one percent this year, that decrease slowed down significantly compared to past years, when arrests were steadily declining at higher rates.

A decrease in arrests is positive for students, because it means the police are walking away, Miller said, which allows students to stay in school and for the school to take control of the situation.

“We’d like to see more mitigations, where maybe a school said we need police help and the police got there and said ‘no, we don’t think you need our help,’... or the police were able to calm things down and there’s no ongoing consequence where the student is now arrested, or has a criminal record,” Miller said.

“That’s what we’d really like to see because it indicates that the school and the police and the kid are working things out.”

Juvenile reports increased 100 percent, although they still remain a small part of overall interventions.

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