By Rachel Vick
The head of the union that represents thousands of New York City school safety agents wants his members to remain under the umbrella of the NYPD, despite lawmakers’ efforts to fold the workforce back into the Department of Education.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and city councilmembers said last year that the city would save $300 million by moving school safety from the NYPD, but maintained the status quo in the latest budget.
Gregory Floyd, the president of Teamsters Local 237, said it should stay that way. He said the NYPD brought a new level of oversight and accountability to the role when they took over in 1998.
Under the NYPD, there was “restructuring retraining, bringing up to standards and making sure they got qualified personnel to be around children.”
“I’m afraid if they go back to [the DOE] they won’t have the expertise or care that they will have to be working around children,” Floyd said. “People don’t know those lessons from the past.”
The Department of Education remains “instrumental” in outlining training requirements, Floyd said. The DOE also accounts for much of the school safety agents’ funding.
“Whatever happens with the NYPD with what goes on in the streets has nothing to do with us,” he said.
Still, critics charge, the role of agents as an extension of the NYPD has only fueled the school-to-prison pipeline, criminalizing predominantly Black and Latino students for offenses that might otherwise be treated as school disciplinary issues.
“I know that the vast majority of SSAs are committed to the well-being of young people and I have worked closely with them on projects in the past,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams in an open letter last month.
“I believe that as we move to a new model, it is imperative to do so through a just transition that carefully considers the employment opportunities available to agents in a restorative justice model and maintains levels of pay and fringe benefits for employees while helping them engage with the community in a different but equally critical way,” he added.
Floyd said safety agents have responded to such criticism by reduced arrests. He contends that eliminating agents would lead to more violence.
He said he supports hiring more mental health professionals and behavioral specialists, however.
“The more personnel you have, the more services for children, the better they’ll be,” Floyd said.
“It’s not an either or,” he added. “You don’t need to have that at the expense of security. Social workers are not going to respond to a fight, to an intruder, or respond to a bomb threat or someone trying to evade police.”
Handling security threats from outsiders and within the school walls are just one part of the role agents perform, Floyd said.
A majority of agents are women and people of color,, and many are products of the New York City public school system — representation that Floyd said is invaluable in their work with students. The NYPD’s current chief of patrol, Juanita Holmes, began her career as a Queens school safety agent, for example.
“They do far more than the public understands and knows,” Floyd said.
“They thought their work was appreciated, now they’re being used politically,” Floyd added. “They’re demoralized, they’re upset and feel like scapegoats. Morale is low.”