The plan to shift School Safety Agents from the Police Department to the Department of Education is on track to be completed by next July, but is still under scrutiny from both supporters and critics of the change.
During a recent City Council hearing on reducing the NYPD’s budget, Council Member Robert Holden questioned whether every incident that occurs on school grounds will be reported once safety comes under the DOE’s purview.
Mr. Holden, who was against the transfer, was concerned about the agency being held accountable.
'Pressured Not to Report'
“I had School Safety officers tell me that some of the Principals in the schools or staff were pressuring them not to report certain crimes that happened in the schools. Can you imagine if this is under the Department of Education, the problems that would arise?” he asked police officials.
As part of the two-year transition, School Safety Agents were trained in conflict resolution and restorative justice during this past school year, overseen by the Mayor’s Office of Operations.
But some advocates for police-free schools believed the plan to transform the role of the Agents did not go far enough and have called for them to be removed from school buildings.
Rohini Singh, a senior staff attorney with the School Justice Project at Advocates For Children, testified about the harmful impacts of having police in schools. Data showed that black and brown students were disproportionately more likely to be suspended or arrested.
Not Trained Enough?
The group argued that the Agents were not equipped to handle mental-health crises.
Ms. Singh also decried the city’s decision to hire additional School Safety Agents while simultaneously working to remove the NYPD from schools. The city announced in August that it was hiring 250 School Safety Agents to address attrition and a recent slate of retirements. Currently, schools are facing a shortage of Agents that many school leaders feared will be exacerbated by the coronavirus vaccine mandate, with about 1,500 Agents still unvaccinated as of late last month.
A class of 475 prospective School Safety Agents was previously cancelled due to pressure from advocates for police-free schools.
The head of the union that represents the School Safety Agents, Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd, has repeatedly objected to the transfer, arguing that his members have been scapegoated by advocates for defunding the police. School Safety Agents are unarmed, and 70 percent of them are women. Ninety percent of them were black and Latino.
Cites DOE's Past Failure
He has also raised concerns that schools will be left vulnerable if School Safety Agents were under the DOE, and has pointed out that the Agents were shifted to the NYPD in 1998 because the old Board of Education proved incapable of managing them.
Many Agents were also worried about the transfer. Olufunmilola Obe, Commander of the NYPD’s School Safety division, admitted that there was “overall, some apprehension on the side of the SSAs.”
Last month Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, a former Police Captain, said he would “reassess” the transfer if elected.
Council Member Adrienne Adams, chair of the Committee on Public Safety, said that many of the Agents were single mothers and viewed the students they served as their own children.
Ms. Singh argued that’s “not necessarily the way students perceive them,” stating that “their presence…is harmful as NYPD officers.”