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City Expands Programs to Reduce School Arrests

By Amy Zimmer | February 27, 2017 4:54pm
 An empty classroom at a Manhattan high school
An empty classroom at a Manhattan high school
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

MANHATTAN — Arrests and summonses in schools continue to dip, but Mayor Bill de Blasio said more must be done to keep black and Latino students from ending up in court.

To that end, the city is growing its “Warning Card Program” — in which NYPD officers and School Safety Agents can issue a “warning card” instead of a criminal summons to students 16 years of age or older for two low-level infractions on school grounds: possession of small amounts of marijuana and disorderly conduct.

It is also expanding its “School Justice Project,” which provides free legal assistance to students looking to clear summonses to reduce the number of students arrested and prevent a continuing cycle of involvement with the criminal justice system. The city is also offering more “Know Your Rights” trainings at schools with historically high rates of summonses and arrests.

“Our students belong in the classroom, learning with their peers,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Through our investments in school-based interventions, we are improving student behavior while keeping our teens out of trouble.”

Nearly four in 10 summonses issued have historically resulted in a warrant for failure to appear in court, which can impact the likelihood of future detention, according to city officials. By connecting students with legal help, the city hopes to avoid this.

The School Justice Project, which is run in partnership with the nonprofit legal group Youth Represent, launched in November at the Evander Childs Campus in Williamsbridge, The Bronx and will be available to students across the city this year.

The Warning Card Program was piloted in 2015 in 37 schools across five Bronx school campuses — Evander Childs, Adlai E. Stevenson, Walton, John F. Kennedy, and Herbert H. Lehman campus. After one year, city officials said there was a 14 percent dip in the number of summonses issued for small amounts of marijuana and disorderly conduct at these campuses.

This spring, the program will reach an additional 34 schools across 11 campuses throughout the city, including the Upper West Side’s Martin Luther King Jr Campus, Gramercy’s Washington Irving Campus, Bayside’s Benjamin Cardozo High School, East New York’s Thomas Jefferson Campus, and the New Dorp Campus in Staten Island.

The city has also added more guidance counselors in schools and increased training on preventative measures, like restorative justice approaches that focus on positive approaches to discipline and how to de-escalate conflict before they result in violent fights, officials said.

There were roughly 370 arrests for school-based incidents in the fourth quarter of 2016, down about 13 percent from the previous two quarters, according to NYPD data. There were roughly 250 summonses, down 25 percent from the first quarter but virtually the same as the second quarter.

Advocates pointed out that black and Latino students disproportionately faced criminal consequences.

While black and Latino students make up about 69 percent of the population of city schools, they made up more than 90 percent of the summonses and arrests, according to the Urban Youth Collaborative organizing group.

“The decrease in arrests and summons is an indication the administration is trying to go in the right direction, but the most common reason for a criminal summons is disorderly conduct, and non-criminal violations and misdemeanors continue to make up the majority of interactions between students and police and criminal consequences,” the group’s coordinator Kesi Foster said in a statement.

Foster wants to see further reductions in the ways students were pushed into the criminal justice system, which often has long-lasting negative impacts, including being torn from families and communities, he said.

“We must end arrests and summons for non-criminal violations and misdemeanors to stop putting Black and Latino youth in front of police, prosecutors, and judges when they need to be in front of guidance counselors, social workers, mental health staff, and restorative justice coordinators.”

The Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York — which the Urban Youth Collaborative is part of — said it critical to find ways to reduce arrests given the fears that the federal government’s policies will result in over-policing communities of color.

“Now more than ever the city needs to take leadership and respond to federal policies designed to persecute and criminalize communities of color by transforming local policies that result in Black and Latino youth being pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system,” a statement from the campaign said. “We need to prevent and address incidents through education, community-building, Restorative Justice practices and other positive interventions rather than more harsh discipline and punishment.”