As kids head back to class this week, education officials are hoping new police training efforts will calm the city’s most troubled schools. But their biggest worry isn’t just fighting crime; it’s keeping the peace between police, school safety officers and educational administrators.
Earlier this year, conflict between principals and the police and safety officers at the city’s most violent schools reached an all-time high after a Bronx principal was arrested when he intervened in an officer’s disciplining of a student. The incident led to a barrage of complaints from students, parents and school administrators at “Impact Schools,” created in 2004 to target high-crime schools with a special police task force and new disciplinary procedures. The hubbub culminated in a report from the Bronx Borough President’s office demanding a clearer chain of command within school safety.
“We believe that there needs to be some joint training between the police and the school community,” said Ernest Logan, vice president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. “People come in and talk about the work that the police officers do, but they don’t say we should work together.”
NYPD officials say they have revamped their training to help officers better integrate into the school environment. The police department now incorporates sensitivity training from outside nonprofits for the Impact Schools’ 200 uniformed police and roughly 4200 unarmed school safety officers citywide. Officers also meet with principals-in-training to discuss discipline issues before school begins.
“Steps have been taken to clarify each agency’s role in the trainings,” said Captain John Oliver, an administrator in the school safety division. “The principal is in charge of building and the police department is in charge once it becomes criminal, and the police department will decide if arrests are to be made.”
The city’s public schools have their own training as well, said Keith Kalb, a DOE spokesperson. “We promote a team approach to discipline and daily communication occurs between school staff including NYPD,” he said. Kalb declined to elaborate on the specific details of the training, but said it involved peer mediation and conflict resolution.
Yet, a new training regime may not be enough, say principals and students; they’d like to see for themselves what officials are proposing. The Urban Youth Collaborative, a coalition of Bronx and Brooklyn students concerned with teen rights, has been seeking a copy of the new training curriculum since mid-August, when they met with Board of Education. The efforts haven’t yielded the desired result, said Yasmelia Villa, 17, a junior at Manhattan Center High School and an activist with UYC.
Though she was still waiting to see the plans last week, Villa said there was a missing component she hoped to see in any new program: “We believe that the students should have more input, since the students are the ones who deal with the security agents.”