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Police arrests and tickets in school down, but racial gap persists

The number of students getting arrested or ticketed by New York City police officers during school is trending down, according to updated police statistics released last week.

The decline comes in the second school year for which the New York City Police Department, which governs school safety, has been required to publicly report how many student arrests it makes and summonses it gives out. It is also required to report the data disaggregated by gender, race, age and the category of offense.

Despite the dip, racial disparities in the arrests have remained constant, which critics say is a signal that sweeping changes to student safety policies are still needed.

During a six-month period this year, spanning from January to June 30, police made 360 students arrests, a 33 percent decline over the same period in 2012, according to data collected by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

For the same period, 465 summonses were handed out, a 50 percent decline compared to the previous year. More than half of the summonses issued were for disorderly conduct, behavior that includes fighting, obscene language, or other kinds of public disturbances.

Though considered “non-criminal,” summonses still typically requires a student to make a court appearance, which often means absence from school. Advocates say that most of the summonses — and even many of the arrests — that students are cited for could better be handled by guidance counselors, social workers and principals instead of the criminal justice system.

“We don’t want cops dealing with issues that are best dealt with by teachers,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of NYCLU.

Lieberman is part of a coalition that wants the next mayoral administration to adopt a series of recommendations to give principals more authority of how their students are disciplined. Currently, the New York City Police Department governs school safety, an arrangement forged in 1998 by the Rudy Giuliani administration and approved by the Board of Education, which was headed by mayoral candidate Bill Thompson.

Thompson now opposes the current system of school safety governance. He has said he supported the move in 1998 because schools were more dangerous.

“Schools weren’t safe, we created a transfer of our public safety division over to the police department so it was more professionally done,” Thompson told NY1 in May.

In the 15 years since the Giuliani agreement, the number of school safety agents and armed police officers working in schools has swelled from about 3,200 to 5,200, according to NYCLU.

The coalition says the current system has disproportionately negative impact on minority students. Despite representing about 70 percent of the student population, black and Latino students account for almost all of the arrests and summonses, a persistent trend that has not subsided despite the overall decline.

“There is a divide in the experience that our kids have in school,” Lieberman said, referring to the racial gap.

Advocates suggested that the overall numbers have dipped in part because of the new public reporting requirements for the NYPD. The city has also signed off on pilot training programs for some of its school safety agents who work in schools with the most arrests and summons.

“Eyes have been opened,” said Judith Kaye, a former chief judge of New York State who heads a task force calling on similar reforms. “We’re looking to the next mayor to pick this up and carry it forward.”Most Democratic candidates have already said they support returning the less severe school safety responsibilities to being under a principal’s authority.Joe Lhota, a leading Republican candidate who worked under the Giuliani administration, did not respond to requests for comment.

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