NYPD Impact On Students and Learning Environment

The following is a continuation of the exploration of NYPD occupancy in public schools. Last week’s column, covered the disciplinary actions of the NYPD, this segment is a brief analysis of the impact of these actions on students:   

Perhaps the most important impact of police in schools is the effect of their presence on learning environments. Students are observed by School Safety Administrators and police officers before they even open the school door and are then greeted by metal detectors each morning as they enter school. They remove their belts, hair clips, and jewelry, their bags are subject to frequent searches (even if they do not set off the metal detector). Once they have made it through the door, they are immediately placed under surveillance by video cameras that watch them walk to their classrooms. Along the way, they are monitored by more officers before they even make it into their first-period classroom (ACLU of New York). This scenario is a common one for most students K-12 in New York City. Starting each morning being treated and surveilled like a criminal has a very significant psychological, social, and emotional impact on both students and teachers. 

The NYCLU conducted a survey of roughly one thousand New York City students, teachers, parents and school officials about the presence of police forces and metal detectors in schools. The results were overwhelmingly negative. The top concerns about the police included discriminatory and demeaning languages, unwarranted search and seizure of legal personal items, disruption of class time, unjustified arrest for minor school code violations, and “retaliatory arrests of educators questioning the NYPD’s treatment of students.” Fifty-three percent of surveyed students reported officers speaking to them inappropriately, or in a manner that made them feel uncomfortable. Both students and educators reported SSAs and police officers as “too hostile or aggressive”. In a series of studies and surveys conducted by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), many students and teachers cited instances of abuse. For example,  Martin Luther King Jr. High School students reported being called “baby Rikers” by the SSA agents. This derogatory comment implies that the students will soon be prisoners. At Louis D. Brandeis High School, a number of students and teachers reported instances of inappropriate or aggressive comments such as, “That girl has no ass.” Another instance of verbal and physical abuse was reported by a school aide who witnessed a Sergeant abuse a student who refused to turn over his cell phone. The aid claims, the officer, “…hit the child in the jaw, wrestled him to the ground, handcuffed him, removed him from the school premises, and confined him at the local precinct” (DeRosa). Lastly, a reported 96% of students said they were required to remove their belts or shoes in order to pass through the metal detectors every morning before school. The same students surveyed in this statistic also stated that they “fear intrusive searches” and are afraid of their personal items being confiscated (Mukherjee). Seizing personal items and searching the private property of children sends the message, “We do not trust you.” 

Stripping students of their privacy and instilling fear at the institution in which they are supposed to find sanctuary has a largely negative impact on every child. If these actions are not enough to warrant reform, perhaps the repeated interference of class time is enough to spark a change. Students go to school with one goal: to learn. If the learning environment is constantly being disrupted by aggressive police behavior, how can a student be expected to pay an adequate amount of attention to the material being presented? It has been made clear by the NYPD that they are there to enforce the rules through the use of power and fear. To add to the fear of police officers, there have been many reported instances of police arresting students for “non-criminal violations of school rules” and the arrest of educators for protesting the mistreatment of students by the NYPD. With such an out-of-control hierarchy in schools, it can be expected that both the students and educators spend their days in a constant state of agitation which leads to less learning, more hostile emotions, and worsened overall mental health.