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Bronx Students Arrested More Than Others Across City, Report Says

By Patrick Wall | August 16, 2012 7:14pm

BRONX — Police arrested and ticketed students in The Bronx at a higher rate than in any other borough last year, with nearly half of all summonses going to Bronx students, though they make up only a fifth of the middle and high school enrollment, a new report said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union released an analysis this week of school safety data that the police are required to collect and submit on a quarterly basis under a City Council law passed last year.

Citywide, the report said 95 percent of arrested students were black or Latino, even though they represent about 70 percent of the school system’s 1.1 million students.

The first survey of a full year’s worth of police-student interactions in schools, the data show 882 arrests and 1,666 summonses in schools from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012.

The NYCLU, which joined with a private law firm to file a class action lawsuit against the Police Department in 2010 over school arrests, said the data show overly aggressive officers responding to “non-criminal disciplinary incidents in schools.”

“Rather than focusing on the crimes, the police are focused on horseplay,” said NYCLU advocacy director Udi Ofer.

The group noted, for instance, that 64 percent of summonses were issued for disorderly conduct, “a catchall category that can include encompass all kinds of typical horseplay.”

It was hard-pressed to explain why officers in The Bronx ticketed and arrested a disproportionate number of students.

In a statement, an Education Department spokeswoman said major crimes in schools are down by 49 percent and violent crimes by 45 percent over the past decade.

The NYPD said the group’s analysis misrepresented the data by comparing arrest figures to population shares, rather than to victims’ descriptions of suspects.

“The NYCLU’s kneejerk reaction to claim racism is as old as it is false,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said in a statement.

In April, Malik Ayala, a sophomore at Lehman High School, was slapped with a disorderly conduct ticket after handing out flyers protesting the city's plan to shut down the school.

On Wednesday, Malik, 16, said the heavy police presence in schools inevitably leads to their involvement in non-criminal matters, which actually leaves students feeling less safe.

“As a student, it makes me feel like I’m under constant watch,” he said, adding, “When students get involved in fights, they don’t go to the office anymore, they get put in handcuffs.”

Bonnie Massey, a social worker at Bronx International High School, said all school staff, including safety officers, need better training on how to deescalate conflicts before they require more serious disciplinary action.

School safety officers are unarmed Police Department employees who receive only 14 weeks of training, compared to six months for police officers, according to the NYCLU.

The group notes that 4,900 school safety officers and 200 armed police officers work in schools — compared to 3,000 guidance counselors and 1,500 social workers.

“There needs to be way more social workers and guidance staff in schools,” Massey said. “How can you give 400 students the attention they need and there’s one of you?”

Massey and the NYCLU also said that policies regarding school safety officers — such as how and to what incidents they should respond — are unclear.

Asked about those policies, DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg replied via email, “We have a partnership with the NYPD and there are school safety agents in our schools.”