Today, roughly 5,000 poorly trained and undersupervised School Safety Officers (SSOs) are assigned to New York City public schools. Although ostensibly charged with protecting the safety of students, many students, parents and educators are concerned that these officers instead have caused unrest in city schools.
In January, the Racial Justice Program of the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of New York City students against the New York City Police Department (NYPD), which oversees SSOs. It alleges that NYPD personnel routinely violate the civil rights of public school children through the excessive use of force and wrongful arrests.
In a recent column "Cops vs. Kids," New York Times columnist Bob Herbert called attention to these allegations of abuse. Herbert highlights several examples of the unfortunate, but ongoing struggle between students and safety officers:
Just last month, a 12-year-old girl at a junior high school in Queens was arrested for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. She was paraded out of school in handcuffs and taken to a precinct stationhouse. She wept, too.
As Herbert notes, these complaints have, in large part, been ignored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. However, the ACLU and the NYCLU have heeded the call for justice, and are seeking to ensure that the students of New York City schools are treated with the respect they deserve.
Both the article and lawsuit dramatically demonstrate the consequences of the school-to-prison pipeline, as schools increasingly use overly aggressive policing tactics, including the threat of arrest, to punish students for acts of minor misbehavior that, a generation ago, would result only in a detention.