Police in Schools

Curbing school cops

Elementary Abuse

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The country's fifth largest force of armed agents with the power to detain and arrest citizens—larger than the police forces of Washington, D.C., Boston, or San Francisco—is New York City's School Safety Division. But according to a lawsuit filed in January by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the city's public school cops often provide the opposite of safety, illegally detaining and physically abusing innocent students.

The plaintiffs charge that students have been handcuffed, thrown to the ground, and taken into custody for noncriminal offenses—in one case, for doodling on a desk. The New York Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau has received an average of more than one complaint against these officers every day from 2002 through June 2007.

The suit seeks to change the way the officers are trained and disciplined, and to return power over student discipline to school administrators. "Despite mounting evidence of systemic misconduct by police personnel in the schools," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a press release, the police department "refuses to even acknowledge any problems with its school policing practices. We are confident that the courts will compel much-needed reform."

Two weeks after the suit was filed, another child—this time a 12-year-old girl—was detained for drawing on her desk in erasable marker. She told the New York Daily News that during her detention at a local police precinct, she "started crying, like, a lot."