The following letter was sent to the New York Daily News on February 19, 2009.
To the editor:
In his recent column “It’s Time to Police the NYPD’s School Cops,” Errol Louis wrongly attacks the school safety agents that protect our children every day.
Mr. Louis points to a handful of unfortunate incidents to argue that NYC students are being routinely abused. In fact, the vast majority of our city’s 1.1 million schoolchildren interact with our 5,000 officers amiably and without incident.
There may be more school safety agents than police officers in Boston, Washington and Las Vegas, but the population they protect is roughly twice the size of as any of those cities. Every day, thousands of incidents are resolved peacefully, and thousands more are prevented due to the diligence of our agents, who last year lowered the crime rate in schools by 11 percent.
School safety agents have a difficult job. They are responsible for seizing weapons and drugs, and preventing gang violence in the city’s most troubled schools. Even in the best schools, when dangers arise, school safety agents are on the front lines to investigate, resolve and record such incidents. Theirs is generally a thankless job, often drawing complaints, especially from the more unruly students. Most of these complaints are found to have no merit. The rest are dealt with swiftly. Sadly, there are times when our agents must make tough decisions and take tough action. Drastic measures are only taken when the situation warrants them and when all other options have been exhausted.
In the case of 5-year old Dennis Rivera, the student had punched a principal in the eye and smashed a glass, becoming a danger not only to others but himself. He was handcuffed not to cause him harm, but to protect him from harming others and himself.
In what Mr. Louis describes as a “scuffle,” 17-year old Isamar Gonzales yanked a tuft of hair from an agent’s head and hit her repeatedly. The school’s principal was only taken into custody after he tackled one of the agents to the ground and impeded a legitimate arrest.
While most of the city’s students are well-intentioned, good children, it is a sad fact that some are very troubled. Our agents must deal with all these children, and they have done an excellent job.
Our agents do this without being armed and without using force unless absolutely necessary. The 200 armed officers Mr. Louis mentions are actually separate NYPD officers. School safety agents do not carry firearms.
Mr. Louis essentially calls our agents child abusers. Shame on him. They are actually our children’s best protectors, who encourage cooperation for a safe learning environment, and the first line of defense in keeping them safe in a dangerous world.
President, Local 237 IBT