Thursday, July 05, 2007

Harassed in the Classroom

I'm not buying for an instant Herbert's assertion that police officers in NYC's public schools are typically abusive and out of control:

The Soguero incident is among many outlined in a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union titled “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools.” Students, teachers and principals who have done nothing wrong are frequently harassed, abused and in some cases arrested and jailed by cops who are supposed to be on the lookout for criminal activity.

It’s common for police officers to belittle and curse at students. And many students have complained about “pat-downs” and intrusive searches by the police.

I have a lot of respect for the ACLU and I haven't read the report, but I suspect that incidents in which police officers are out of line are extremely rare -- it's just that in a system with 1,400+ schools and over 1 million students, even if there's a 1/100th of 1% "error rate", that will yield dozens of juicy stories for reports (like the ACLU's) and reporters (like Herbert) to go nuts over.
For instance, the incident that Herbert writes about was investigated by the Bronx District Attorney, who issued the following statement:

Mr. Johnson, in announcing the disposition, said: "Disrespect for the authority of police officers is one of my pet peeves, and there is no excuse for the conduct of the defendants in this case, which, as they acknowledge, set a terrible example for the rest of the school. Police Officers assigned to public schools must be allowed to do their jobs, and we are fortunate that this police officer did not suffer a serious injury. What is most unusual about this situation is that the principal and his aide were under the impression that they were acting in the best interests of the school, and with some authority. Considering that and all of the other circumstances, in my discretion these cases will be handled outside the courts. It is now up to educational authorities to decide if further sanctions are warranted against either of the school officials.

It is vital that confrontations like this one do not arise again.

School safety and a proper educational environment are not inconsistent.

The educational authorities recognized that when they invited police into the schools. I would like to use this opportunity to serve notice that in the future, those who interfere with a police officer in a school will indeed be prosecuted."

The danger of stories like Herbert's is that they can lead to terribly wrong-headed decisions -- like pulling police officers out of schools altogether!
July 3, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

Harassed in the Classroom

 Bob Herbert, The New York Times

Michael Soguero was a first-rate principal at Bronx Guild High School. He loved his job, and he loved teaching in New York. He has not blamed the New York City Police Department for his departure to a school in Estes Park, Colo. Nevertheless, the facts are the facts.

Back on Feb. 3, 2005, a student came running into Mr. Soguero’s office at Bronx Guild to say that a police officer was in a classroom. “I jumped up and ran to the classroom,” Mr. Soguero told me in an interview last week. “I found this officer, Gonzalez, exchanging words with a female student.

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