20 November 2021
Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that a fairly new type of cop would be sent to schools across the city following a series of violent incidents, including five guns allegedly recovered from students in a week.
The NYPD initially rolled out the “Youth Coordinating Officers” program in 2020, with an early goal of moving 350 cops into the role to cover the city’s 77 neighborhoods.
The YCO division debuted as part of the department’s new “youth strategy” and NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea said cops would focus on crime prevention by tracking teens and connecting them to services social and educational before they break the laws. YCOs have been placed in each compound, officials said, as the first point of contact between young people and police.
“We have the information,” said Shea, unveiling the project last January. “We can identify these children and help them early in their downward trajectory.”
Since their inception, the activities of youth workers – from basketball court renovations and shooting responses, to marches, block parties and seizures of weapons – were publicized on NYPD social networks. For some neighborhood leaders, the program offers a welcome change in the department’s relationship with young people.
But for other community organizers and police reformers LA VILLE spoke to, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the new YCOs. And many are reluctant to send more police to schools.
Meanwhile, about a third of the more than 90 YCOs identified by THE CITY were the subject of conduct complaints before joining the new division, according to records.
“How do they work with us? That’s a question,” said Iesha Sekou, executive director of Street Corner Resources, an anti-violence group in Harlem that is part of the administration’s “Cure Violence” initiative. Blasio.
“Are they really working with us? Or is it just a demonstration like they’re doing something that maybe isn’t necessarily good for the community, but makes the NYPD look great? “
When the mayor announced that the new type of cop would help keep the school safe, police officials described it as a strengthening effort.
“We have a backup of our YCOs, our youth coordinators and our neighborhood coordinators who fill some of the schools where we don’t have the maximum coverage of school security officers,” the head of the school said. NYPD Rodney Harrison speaks to reporters alongside the Mayor on October 26.
“So I am optimistic that we are doing everything possible to protect the students.”
Yet the move follows more than a year of strong protests against school police, largely led by students and their advocates, to have fewer police officers in schools, with some calling for an end to the traditional police officer program. school safety.
Meanwhile, neither the mayor’s office nor the NYPD would give specific answers to THE CITY’s questions about how many YCOs are currently employed or how many would be sent to schools.
When not on campus, the duties of children’s cops include following up on young people who have come into contact with the justice system, patrolling “areas frequented by young people” and visiting families of alleged perpetrators. and victims, in addition to making arrests and investigating. crimes.
Officers also connect children to local children’s activities and create their own youth programs, according to the department’s patrol guide.
In schools, “NYPD deployments will be determined based on intelligence gathered, which schools have struggled and which schools need a heightened presence based on school safety officers,” said the Sgt. Edward Riley, NYPD spokesperson.
Unannounced scans of metal detectors “will vary from day to day,” Riley said. Schools will be selected “on the basis of an analysis of data on recovered weapons, crime and overall violence both historically and also on the basis of crime trends”, as well as contributions from security officials. school and the Ministry of Education, he added.
The locations of the new “safe corridors”, where cops secure the paths between school and train and bus stops “will change regularly based on an analysis of crime data and trends in incidents,” a- he declared.
But Gregory Floyd, the leader of the School Safety Officers Union, Local 237, told THE CITY that even he was unaware of the plans. He reiterated his call for hundreds of other security guards.
“I didn’t see any details,” Floyd said, adding that the effort “cannot make up for the [school safety agent] shortage.”
Jerry Ratcliffe, professor of criminal justice at Temple University, noted that a force of youth officers – and cops helping in schools – is not unique to New York.
“I think it will be successful, if the NYPD puts in the analytical effort to identify the problem it is trying to solve,” he said. “If this is a combined response from the mayor’s office with little thought, then the flaws in this plan will become fairly obvious quickly.”
In February 2020, a spokesperson for the NYPD told THE CITY that the basis of the new strategy would be to “build community partnerships.”
“There are so many people and organizations in agencies across the city that are already doing a great job helping children,” spokesman Al Baker said at the time. “Our goal is to make sure the NYPD is doing everything possible to contribute to this effort and bring us all to the same table to work together and share ideas and resources to achieve our common goal.”
City council member Adrienne Adams (D-Queens) said she will monitor how officers fit into the school environment.
“I’d like to see a plan and that’s my problem,” said Adams, chairman of the council’s public safety committee.
But overall, the work the young cops have already done in her neighborhood has been positive, she told THE CITY. Officers “really stepped up” their contact with children during the pandemic, said Adams, who noted the cops’ years of experience.
Some of the veteran police officers who joined the YCO division had previously faced complaints about their policing.
Of 91 youth coordinators identified by NYCLU and THE CITY from NYPD social media accounts, 30 had at least one complaint filed against them with CCRB, ranging from offensive language to use of force physical damage to property.
The allegations against at least five officers were “substantiated” meaning that the board concluded that misconduct had occurred.
Despite the well-founded allegations, including two of abuse of force, none have received significant disciplinary action, which, as LA VILLE previously reported, is not uncommon.
Neither the NYPD nor the mayor’s office responded to requests for comment on the CCRB cases.
Some researchers warn that frequent contact with the police has an impact on school performance and the overall health of young people.
Last summer, THE CITY reported that black and Hispanic youth were disproportionately susceptible to police misconduct, according to the Civilian Complaints Commission.
The NYPD says the new YCO program was created, in part, to address this disparity. But not everyone is convinced.
“They are still not social workers,” said Johanna Miller, director of the Education Policy Center at the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Sekou, of Street Corner Resources, told THE CITY she was concerned after seeing police use crisis management tactics in response to shootings – often just after violence groups like hers shut down. did exactly the same.
“I think it’s more about looking good than working together, because if it was more about working together, we would know who these officers are,” Sekou said. “And I have to frankly say I don’t know who they are. And I’m in the community every day.”
Reverend Maurice Winley, who heads the Living Redemption Youth Opportunity Center in Harlem, said his organization has invited some YCOs to speak to members about its programs.
But, he said, when an officer shows up with a “gun on his hip,” it creates a certain “power dynamic” which can be a barrier to the confidence young officers seek to build.
When THE CITY asked how the NYPD trains or measures the success of the JCOs, or the Youth Strategy program in general, the department only referred to its online patrol guide.
“We’ve seen this before: The NYPD identifies what it thinks is a problem and then it decides the way to fix it is to beef up the police,” Miller said, adding that she was also worried about whether the cops would gather intelligence while ostensibly helping the children.
“We have no feeling that they have any specialized training,” she told THE CITY. “So this is a pure NYPD business with no sort of minimal oversight from another agency specializing in working with youth.”
Camara Jackson, director of the nonprofit Elite Learners Inc of Brownsville, congratulated de Blasio on the new initiative. She said her organization, which offers athletic, educational and mentoring programs, has maintained positive relationships with local youth coordinators, especially over the summer.
But she also agreed that schools need fewer cops – and more educators and social workers.
“I really want the NYPD to realize that we are valuable partners in this work,” Jackson said of his own group and dozens of similar community organizations. “And since they get an extension to enter schools, we should also get an extension to work alongside them.”
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