NYCLU, ACLU Warn NYPD about Illegal Arrests of Schoolchildren

October 8, 2008
MORE
> Letter to NYPD Commisioner Kelly (10/7/2008) (PDF)
> Analysis of the Illegal Arrests (PDF)

The New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union have demanded that NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly immediately end the unlawful practice of arresting children in New York City public schools who have not committed crimes.

New York State law prohibits children younger than 16 from being arrested for minor, non-criminal violations like loitering. If a child commits a minor infraction at school, he may be disciplined, but the Family Court Act prohibits police from arresting the child. But according to NYPD data obtained in a Freedom of Information Law request, between 2005 and 2007, approximately 300 New York City public school students were illegally arrested in or on school grounds for non-criminal violations. And when the children were arrested, they were handcuffed, forcibly removed from school and taken to police precincts.

In a letter sent to Kelly late yesterday, the NYCLU and ACLU informed the NYPD of the situation and urged the department to immediately end the illegal practice.

"These children aren't criminals. The NYPD must follow the law and stop treating them like they are," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "Arresting children for minor infractions in their own schools – in front of their teachers and peers – only stigmatizes and humiliates them."

Section 305.2 of the Family Court Act states that warrantless arrest of children younger than 16 is illegal unless they have committed crimes. Under New York law, a "crime" includes a felony or misdemeanor but not the minor infractions for which students are being arrested.

"New York law rests upon the sound public policy that children who commit relatively minor infractions should still be treated as children – not criminals. Children need guidance and support, not a trip to the police precinct," said ACLU staff attorney Catherine Kim.

Across the country, resource-strapped school districts have all but abandoned the goal of providing a quality education to every student and are instead focusing on ways to push "problem" students out of mainstream educational settings, Kim said. As a result, the most neglected and underserved students – youth of color and those with special needs – are being criminalized.

The problem is particularly acute in New York City where there are more than 5,000 school safety agents and at least 200 armed police officers in the city's public schools – a force larger than all but four of the nation's police departments.

"There are more police personnel patrolling our school hallways than are patrolling the streets of Detroit, Boston or Washington, DC," Lieberman said. "Our children are being pushed from school directly into the criminal justice system."

The NYCLU, as well as 25 City Council members, supports passage of the Student Safety Act, Intro. 816, as an important first step in ending the overpolicing of New York City schools.

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