My school dean and a stern male security guard escorted my friend and me
to an empty classroom near the dean's office, then ordered us to put our
bags against the wall and stand in the middle of the room. The dean checked our bags, opening every pocket, looking
through my folders, checking my wallet and cell phone. The guard
asked us to turn out our pockets. Then he frisked us. That was the first
time I was ever frisked. It felt like I was under arrest and they were about
to read me my rights.
But the dean said they would let us go, since they didn't find
anything, but they would still tell our parents what we had done. What we
had done was retrieve my schoolbag bag from my friend's car, a block from the school,
immediately after gym class -- returning to school on time, but a few moments after everybody else.
After that experience, I was not surprised to learn that some people
are questioning the so-called security measures being used in what are known as
Impact high schools around the city -- schools
singled out for their high levels of violence, disorderly behavior or crime. I do not even go to an Impact school, and yet I was made to feel like a criminal.
Things are reportedly even worse in the Impact schools.
The Impact schools safety initiative was created in 2004 by Mayor
Michael Bloomberg, the Department of Education and the New York
City Police Department, to make schools safer. The
program brought surveillance cameras, metal detectors and large numbers
of uniformed and armed police officers to those schools. They started a
zero tolerance policy where even minor incidents like disorderly
behavior could be punished severely. The idea was that small crimes can
lead to big crimes if they are not addressed quickly. Schools that
improved would be taken off the list and have the security measures
reduced. So far, 24 schools have been put on the list and 15 have been
According to the Department of Education, the program is working. In a press release from
last April, the department said that overall crime has gone down 33 percent and
major crime has gone down 59 percent at Impact schools.
But not everyone is
happy with the program. New York University's Wagner School of Public
Service recently released a study looking at whether the Impact schools
initiative is an appropriate approach to creating safe school
environments. During the 2005-2006 school year, a team of NYU graduate
students researched the initiative and interviewed leaders in the
education system and the community. They concluded that while the Impact
approach is effective, it is not appropriate.
They found that though police officers in schools are effective in the
short-term, they hurt schools in the long-run. The report suggests
that the presence of cops dares some students to commit crime and makes
the rest of students feel threatened, as I did. The report also
points out that Impact schools tend to be underfunded and overcrowded,
and that might be part of the reason there is so much crime in these
schools. It recommended that city officials focus on reducing
over-crowding and increasing funding instead of law enforcement and
severe punishment. The report also recommended that the city government
and the education department should focus on treatment rather than punishment by hiring
psychologists and guidance counselors for schools instead of police
So while the education department was congratulating itself for getting crime down in
schools, the study from New York University's Wagner School of Public
Service was warning that the way they were doing it was going to have
unsavory consequences in the long run. So I decided to interview a
couple of students who attend Impact schools to see what they thought.
Jescine Jarvis, 15, is a sophomore at Harry S. Truman HS, an Impact
school in the Bronx. Her school has metal detectors, security cameras on
every floor, and a police presence.
"I've thought about how I would feel without the police there, and I
would be scared," said Jescine. "I feel safe whenever I see them as I
walk down the hallway or outside the school."
Jescine said the cops have arrested a few students, but she is not afraid
of the police. She said students often joke around with the cops as
though they're friends. "It helps me to see uniformed officers in
schools. It's like seeing a uniformed police officer at the carnival or
at a parade." said Jescine. "[It] makes me feel as if nothing can go
wrong, and that if something does go wrong, then they'll fix it."
Jescine agreed with the Department of Education report that police presence in schools was
A student at an Impact school in Queens, who asked to remain anonymous,
also felt the police at her school was preventing crime, but felt the
means did not justify the end. Six cops were stationed on each floor of
her school for a year and a half. They were supposed to spread out, but
she said that they just stood together and stared at students who walked
by. "You don't want to look at them because you don't want them to say
anything to you," she said. "We felt like criminals. It made me
There were a lot of fights before the school was named an Impact school,
and that after the cops came, "basically all the fights stopped and
there was a lot less theft," she said. She thinks the cops' presence at
her school did help reduce crime, but not because of anything they
did; she never saw them do anything in the school. She thinks the school
became safer simply because being labeled an Impact school made everyone
pull together to improve the school and get rid of that label.
Like the NYU report, she believes that prevention would probably have
been a better solution to the school's safety problems.
This article by Ilya Arbit, 17, a writer for New Youth Connections, is
adapted from the pages of our partner, Youth Communication.
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