New York Daily News

Remove the NYPD from city schools

- BY ANDREW CASE Case is senior counsel at LatinoJust­ice PRLDEF.

Responding to video showing Police Officer Nicholas Scalzo repeatedly punch a teenage girl outside a middle school last month, Mayor Adams said he was “not pleased,” and the NYPD suspended Scalzo without pay. That’s not enough.

Those of us who closely watch police disciplina­ry proceeding­s have good reason to believe that whatever else City Hall or 1 Police Plaza say, the most likely scenario for Scalzo is that he will come out in the clear, with no further disciplina­ry action. Not only that, but even if Scalzo is punished, we know that won’t stop the next child, or the next after that, from being assaulted.

The city needs to restart the stalled plan to move school safety agents outside of the NYPD, and take steps to remove NYPD officers from schools entirely.

My organizati­on, LatinoJust­ice PRLDEF, has for decades challenged the racist practices of the NYPD — most notably when we sued the department to have them dump “stop and frisk.” Our kids deserve better than having armed adults around who see them only as potential criminals, and see that as a license to respond violently.

Researcher­s studying the impact of increased police presence in schools found that there is no impact on serious crime, but that incidents of “non-serious violent crime” (that is, fighting) are more likely to be reported to law enforcemen­t when a school adds School Resource Officers (SROs), law enforcemen­t officers with power to arrest who are almost always armed and work in schools.

And when the Congressio­nal Research Service looked at school resource officers as far back as 2013, it could find no evidence that SROs make schools safer, but noted there was research suggesting that “children in schools with SROs might be more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses.”

The case involving Scalzo is appalling — in the video, we see Scalzo punch a child with his closed fist at least nine times while the girl ducks and holds her hands on her head for protection. But this use of force is regularly condoned by the NYPD disciplina­ry system. According to the NYPD Patrol Guide, officers are allowed to use “the reasonable force necessary to gain control or custody of a subject.” Officers are instructed to consider a subject’s age, but it’s only one of 11 factors to consider, including whether a subject used force or tried to resist the officer.

Under these standards, the NYPD exonerates an astonishin­g degree of violent conduct. For example, in June 2022, an NYPD official found that officers acted reasonably when they knelt on a man’s back, repeatedly punched and kicked him in light of the fact that he was not consenting to a strip search and “squirming.” The victim’s age doesn’t seem to make much difference, either. Two months earlier, the NYPD tried two officers who had stopped two children — ages 12 and eight — who had been holding sticks while walking alongside a park. The NYPD official found that one of the officers had conducted an unlawful stop, but that the other, who had drawn his gun, did not.

And even if the NYPD were to find Scalzo guilty, its own disciplina­ry matrix would only recommend a penalty of 10 vacation days — a few more than Officer James Frascatore received for attacking James Blake. LatinoJust­ice reported last year that most officers who lie during CCRB interviews are not even punished; NYPD’s internal system is unlikely to provide meaningful deterrent to Scalzo.

But even if punishment were meted out regularly, we have seen that the prospect does not serve as a deterrent to using force. The mere introducti­on of police tactics, police training, and police use-of-force policies into the school setting necessaril­y leads to violence towards kids. We saw the result in September 2021, when a school resource officer in Long Beach, intervenin­g in a fight near school grounds, eventually shot and killed eighteen-year old Mona Rodriguez.

So, whether the NYPD punishes Scalzo or not, or others who commit similar acts, to keep our children safe we must reduce the NYPD presence in schools.

Having police officers in schools disproport­ionately increases the possibilit­y that Black and Brown schoolchil­dren will be subjected to police tactics. The most recent quarterly report showed that the NYPD had more than 4,000 interventi­ons with students in the fourth quarter of 2022. The overwhelmi­ng number of those students were Black and Latino. Only a small percentage were white.

It is time for New York City to remove officers from schools and provide the Department of Education sufficient resources to promote alternativ­e safety measures in schools.

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