January 6, 2004

Police to Guard 12 City Schools Cited as Violent


A task force of 150 police officers will help impose order on 12 of New York City's most violent schools under an initiative announced yesterday by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to curb school violence.

Together, the 12 schools enroll less than 3 percent of the city's 1.1 million schoolchildren. But through Nov. 30, they accounted for 13 percent of serious crimes reported this school year and 11 percent of all incidents in the city schools, officials said.

The list of schools, compiled over the winter break by the Department of Education, the Police Department and the teachers' and principals' unions, includes 10 high schools and two middle schools, concentrated in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Poverty rates at the schools range from below 20 percent at Canarsie High School in Brooklyn to nearly 90 percent at Junior High School 22, the Jordan L. Mott School, in the Bronx.

"For too long, we've slowly found ourselves sinking further and further into a pit where anything is tolerated, where the teachers don't have a safe environment, where the teachers can't do their job and the students can't learn," Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference at City Hall. "We brought crime down in the city; everybody said it couldn't be done. There's no reason why we can't bring crime down in the schools."

The Department of Education has been under intense pressure from the teachers' and principals' unions to address the issue of school violence, and union leaders praised Mr. Bloomberg's action yesterday. But the mayor took on the issue only after reports that the suspension system had broken down in the course of his restructuring of the school system and that, as a result, violent students were languishing in the very hallways and classrooms where their offenses occurred.

City officials said the 12 schools named yesterday were trouble spots last year, when they had on average six times as many assaults as other city middle and high schools and nearly seven times as many weapons incidents. Their attendance rates are below average and their suspension rates are generally above average, although officials said that in some cases, low suspension rates prompted concerns. Several of the schools are severely overcrowded.

In about a month, Mr. Bloomberg said, the Police Department will create the task force, which will initially focus on the 12 schools. The schools, which he called impact schools, will also get more unarmed school safety officers, he said. In the meantime, each school received one or two additional police officers, and yesterday, the schools were flooded with other officers from existing police task forces.

The mayor made little mention of cost, saying only that no resources would be pulled from other schools. "Anything we do to help these schools is going to be done with incremental resources, and I'll find ways to pay for it," he said.

Edwin Diaz, 14, a freshman at one of the 12 schools, Washington Irving High School in Manhattan, said he and other students were called into an auditorium yesterday and were informed of the new security measures by a school safety officer.

"He said it's going to be like a police precinct in here from now on," Edwin said. He did not object.

"It's necessary because there are people who bring weapons to school," he said. "It's not a safe environment."

As soon as the list of schools was released, it generated questions about how they were selected.

In a telephone conference call, Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott and John Feinblatt, the city's criminal justice coordinator, described a fluid list that would change with time. All 12 schools were among the 15 percent with the most incidents this year, last year or both, they said. Within that larger group, schools were chosen based on other, qualitative factors.

City officials offered these examples:

?At South Shore High School in Brooklyn, there have been 10 reported robberies this year, more than three times as many as last year during the same period. The number of assaults nearly doubled, to 22.

?At Adlai E. Stevenson High School in the Bronx, there were 14 assaults, up 55 percent over the same period last year, and the number of suspensions, 142.4 per 1,000 students, is far higher than the citywide high school average of 55.5 per 1,000.

?At Far Rockaway High School in Queens, the suspension rate of 198 students per 1,000 is almost four times the citywide high school average. This year, there have been twice as many low-level incidents, particularly marijuana possession and disorderly conduct, as last year by this time.

Starting today, teams including police captains and Education Department supervisors will examine the 12 schools to suggest other changes.

For the schools, being placed on the list was a black mark, even as it offered a promise of relief.

Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, for instance, was placed on the list largely because it is severely overcrowded this year and had severe problems last year, when there were 23 felony and misdemeanor assaults, according to information provided by the city.

A Columbus official objected to the school's placement on the list but said the school was trying to put a "positive spin" on things.

"We're getting additional staffing that we've been asking for all year long," the official said.

Nonetheless, being on the list stung. "You never want to be on a bad list," the official said.

Officials cautioned against labeling the 12 schools the city's most dangerous.

Mr. Bloomberg also gave more detail yesterday about citywide school safety measures that he touched upon in December. From now on, he said, students who seriously injure others or are caught with weapons will be removed from school immediately and placed in a Second Opportunity School, he said. The department, he said, will also push to have students who have been suspended three times removed from their schools permanently and placed elsewhere.

At the news conference, Mr. Bloomberg was joined by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and others, including Ernest Logan, a vice president of the principals' union, and Randi Weingarten, the head of the teachers' union.

Ms. Weingarten called the initiative "a good step," describing the 12 schools as "very good schools" to start focusing on. But in a telephone interview later in the day, she said she would have preferred to see as many as 30 schools on the list.

She added: "During the break, there was more consultation about what the first impact schools should be than I've ever had with this administration. That says to me that they're taking it seriously."

At Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn, which city officials said showed a major increase in low-level incidents like disorderly conduct as well as assaults, reaction to the increased security was mixed.

Andrew McFarlane, 17, said he was `kind of uncomfortable' with the increased police presence.

"Every move you make, you feel like you're being watched," he said.

Faris Ahmad, 16, said that while it was embarrassing to have the school on the list, the increased security "makes me feel very safe."

"I'm totally with it," Faris said.

Stephen Fanti, a social studies teacher who has worked at Sheepshead Bay for 17 years, said he hoped the mayor's initiative would help.

"There are too many students in an uncontrolled environment," Mr. Fanti said. "I love the school and I'd like to see the problems resolved. I'd like to get off that list."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company