Students, Advocates Release First-Ever School Year Student Arrest & Summons Data; Stats Show Unequal Punishment, Over-Policing

Students, parents, advocates, elected officials: unfair, harmful school safety practices must be changed to treat students with dignity. On average more than five students were arrested a day during the last three months of 2011; 93.5% of those arrested Black and Latino. Too many are arrested for minor offenses that should have only meant a trip to the principal’s office.



February 22, 2012

New York, NY – More than 800 students were arrested or served summonses in City schools during the last three months of 2011, according to data released today by students, parents and advocates from New York’s Dignity in Schools Campaign.  Of the nearly 300 arrests, a shocking 93.5% of students were either Black or Latino—many arrested for minor offenses.

The data – obtained by Dignity in Schools members and elected officials for the first time since the school year began – shows what students, parents and advocates have argued for years: the NYPD’s jurisdiction over school safety has resulted in unequal punishment for students of color and unnecessarily harsh punishment for students citywide.

“The number of arrests and summons in just two and a half months of reporting is ridiculous,” said Nilesh Viswashrao, an 18-year-old youth leader of Desis Rising Up and Moving. “This is why we had to fight so hard to get the Student Safety Act to pass and have the NYPD actually report their numbers. We know why these numbers are so high; it’s because of NYPD controlling our school safety. Schools are supposed to be a safe place where young people, parents and administrators are working together to fix problems. The NYPD should have no place in schools.”

“This data confirms that in just three months, too many of our school children were treated as criminals for minor infractions and pushed into the criminal justice system—often for what probably should be a trip to the principal’s office,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.  “It demonstrates that the impact of heavy-handed policing in city schools falls mostly on African American students who suffer more than 60 percent of the arrests, and on male students who suffered nearly three-quarters of all arrests.  If the Bloomberg administration is truly serious about helping young men of color succeed, then they must address these disparities and focus more attention on educating children—not arresting them.”

“We students feel like prisoners in our own schools. We can't walk freely inside our campus without being harassed by Student Safety Officers or members of the NYPD,” said Urban Youth Collaborative youth leader Adama Diallo, a 17-year-old junior at Bronx International High School. “Students should not be arrested for non-criminal, minor infractions such as talking back or writing on a desk.  Instead, we need positive interventions and restorative practices like peer mediation and guidance interventions. This disproportionate number of arrests in NYC public schools must stop now!”

Studies show that unnecessary arrests and court referrals are detrimental to the educational environment, the individual student and the community at large. The long-term effects of school-based arrests on students’ mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as their academic future, can be devastating.  They also result in unnecessary exposure to the juvenile and criminal justice system and exclusion of already at-risk students from school.

“Something is clearly wrong with a system that continues to disproportionately arrest or suspend Black and Latino students at an alarming rate.  Both the DOE and NYPD need to respond to the most recent data by implementing new policies that work towards creating a safe learning environment for our students as opposed to promoting a police state atmosphere,” said Councilmember Robert Jackson, lead sponsor of the Student Safety Act.

Though the data does not describe the facts of the incidents, when viewed against the backdrop of the many accounts of student arrests for offenses like writing on a desk, cursing, and pushing or shoving, all indicators point to police personnel becoming involved in disciplinary infractions that should be handled by educators. Dignity in Schools Campaign members argue that offenses such as talking back, using profanity, disorderly conduct, loitering, possession of a cell phone, minor vandalism and altercations that do not seriously threaten public safety should be considered school discipline issues and handled by school personnel.

Student safety data at a glance: October 1 through December 31, 2011 (55 school days)
Note: Blacks represent 29% of the student population; Latinos are 40%

Arrests: 279 total – more than 5 per day

•  74.9% male
•  93.5% Black and Latino; 60.3% Black, 33.2% Latino
•   About 19% of arrests are of children between 11 and 14 years old

Summons: 532 total – more than 9 per day

•  75.6% male
•  Disorderly conduct accounts for 63% of all summonses issued.
•  Possession of a knife or firearm accounts for 13% of all summonses issued

The Student Safety Act, which was enacted last year, requires the NYPD to submit quarterly reports to the City Council on arrests, summonses and other police-student interactions in the schools.  This is the second data filing since the law went into effect.  It is the first to encompass months in which school was in full session.

The Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York is a coalition of students, parents, educators, civil rights, students’ rights and community organizations, including: Advocates for Children of New York, Center for Community Alternatives, Children’s Defense Fund-New York, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Future of Tomorrow, Make the Road New York, Mass Transit Street Theater, NESRI, New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Pumphouse Projects, Sistas and Brothas United, Teachers Unite, The Sikh Coalition, Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth on the Move, and Youth Represent.