(Original story on NY1 website)
City Council Holds Hearing On Student Safety Act
By: Lindsey Christ
November 10, 2009
The City Council held a hearing Tuesday on the Student Safety Act, which would require more transparency on the police presence in schools. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
More than 5,000 New York City Police Department school safety agents work in the city's public schools every day, and City Council members want to know more about how they interact with the students they are there to protect.
"Our bill is focused on providing more information and clearer information in three areas: discipline in schools, crime in schools and complaints about school safety agents," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
At a packed hearing Tuesday, with more than 100 people in overflow rooms, Council members heard testimony on the Student Safety Act, which would require the Department of Education and NYPD to report detailed information about school safety issues.
Before the hearing, students and advocacy groups insisted the program has to be reformed, saying the police presence in schools not only sets a negative tone but sometimes results in abuse.
"A school safety agent grabbed me by the shoulders, another agent came up and hit me twice over the head with a flashlight," said one city public school student.
"Very often school discipline becomes a matter of going to the precinct instead of going to the principal’s office," said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman.
In the decade that the police department has managed school safety, reported crime in schools has gone down 34 percent. But there have been several high profile incidents of alleged abuse. Just last week, the city agreed to pay $55,000 to Stephen Cruz, who was hit in the head last year by a door kicked open by an officer.
The Safety Act would encourage students to report misconduct, but the police department says that invites false accusations.
"To prominently advertise, in schools and on our websites, the ability to call 311 to make a complaint against SSAs can be seen as an invitation to drive a wedge between school safety agents and the rest of the school community," said Officer James Secreto of the NYPD School Safety Division.
The DOE says it won't be able to report the details of every incident in each school, as called for in the act, without revealing private information about students.
With 33 Council members already signed on as co-sponsors and hundreds attending the protest and hearing, calls for more information on the relationship between police and children in the schools aren't likely to die down anytime soon.