NYC adding metal detectors and police after guns found in schools

NYPD Emergency Service Unit officers respond to an incident at a Brooklyn middle school on Dec. 15, 2015. Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to send extra police personnel to school buildings at the beginning and end of the day and would create 20 “safe corridors” in which police are stationed between schools and transit hubs. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

After a spate of incidents involving students bringing guns into school buildings, New York City will deploy additional metal detectors to campuses and send extra police personnel during arrival and dismissal, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

The city has identified 30 campuses that will immediately see metal detectors on an “unannounced” rotating basis. There are currently 79 campuses that have permanent metal detectors as well as seven roving metal detectors in operation, police officials said.

“We know there’s some schools where there’s been some real issues lately,” de Blasio said. “We need to make sure we’re adding extra protection to make sure there’s never violence, never any incident, where a child is harmed.”

The mayor’s decision to deploy more law enforcement resources to schools comes as the number of guns found in school buildings has ticked up this school year compared with the two years before the pandemic, leading some parents and advocates to pressure the mayor to take action.

But the move also met resistance from critics who argue sending more police and metal detectors will criminalize students of color and won’t resolve the underlying reasons students may get into fights or bring guns to school.

In a two-day stretch last week, school safety agents recovered five guns from students. Two of those guns were identified by metal detectors, NYPD officials said.

In all, eight guns have been recovered from students this school year through Oct. 24, up from one during the same time during the 2019-2020 school year, and two the year before that, according to police data. 

The recent spate of guns found in schools follow other incidents around the country, including in Newark, where a loaded gun was brought into school, and in Philadelphia, where a student shot himself in the leg inside a school building. The school building in Philadelphia used metal detectors; it was not clear how the gun got inside.

In addition to the extra metal detectors, de Blasio indicated that the city would send extra police personnel to school buildings at the beginning and end of the day and would create 20 “safe corridors” in which police are stationed between schools and transit hubs. Police officials acknowledged the city may have to tap into local precincts to come up with enough staff.

There are currently 3,200 school safety agents, NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison told reporters, down from a high of about 5,000 in prior years. About 8% of the safety agents have not been vaccinated and are ineligible to work due to the city’s vaccination mandate for all school staff. Officials are preparing for an incoming class of 250 agents at the end of November, Harrison said, a smaller number than initially planned.

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It is difficult to know how useful the additional metal detectors are likely to be. The police department has declined to provide detailed data about which schools have metal detectors and what items were confiscated as a result, despite a city law requiring disclosure of that information.

“We have so little insight into the effectiveness of metal detectors or unannounced scanning,” said Johanna Miller, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Education Policy Center. Her organization is suing the police department for information about how the metal detectors are used. “What are [metal detectors] being paired with as a long-term solution?”

A 2016 investigation by ProPublica and WNYC found that Black and Hispanic high school students were three times as likely to be required to walk through a metal detector compared to white students and the amount of contraband picked up by them is relatively low.

Some students have argued forcefully that the scanning makes them feel overly policed, that their schools are more dangerous, and can lead to other disruptions such as long lines that force students to miss class. With some of those concerns in mind, de Blasio said the additional scanning would be conducted “in a way that is respectful and communicative.”

City officials have touted other efforts to address students’ emotional needs, especially given the effects of the pandemic on students’ mental health. The city is rolling out a screening tool to gauge students’ emotional health and promised to give every school access to a social worker or school-based mental health clinic.

“Nearly all” of the 500 social workers the city promised to hire are in place, said education department spokesperson Nathaniel Styer, though he did not immediately say how many schools are without access to a social worker or mental health clinic.

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