Home » New York City calls the cops on unruly elementary schoolers hundreds of times each year

New York City calls the cops on unruly elementary schoolers hundreds of times each year

Each year, police are called thousands of times to New York City schools over incidents where children become emotionally distressed or disruptive. In 2022, according to a new investigation published jointly by ProPublica and THE CITY, schools called police 560 times to deal with children under 10 years old. Even when they don’t threaten themselves or others, these children are frequently restrained by police or sent to local hospitals. Some of these children have been as young as four years old.

According to THE CITY reporter Abigail Kramer, New York City public school employees called the police on emotionally distressed students 2,656 times in 2022. In five incidents, school employees called the police on four-year-olds. While black students only make up 25 percent of New York City schools’ population, they comprise 46 percent of “child in crisis” police calls and 59 percent of the students who are handcuffed at school.

While New York City schools policy dictates that a police call should only be used as a last resort, parents told Kramer that school officials used these calls to punish unruly students who were not posing a legitimate safety threat. Further, these parents claimed that police calls frequently ended with their children—many of whom have developmental disabilities—being taken to local hospitals despite no medical emergencies occurring, leading to expensive medical bills.

According to Kramer, school officials called the police on a second-grader named Ethan three times in several weeks. His mother told Kramer that the boy “was a gentle and sweet kid at home,” who often got “got overwhelmed and acted out at school” by running out of the classroom or hitting other children.

Ethan’s aunt told Kramer that, when she came to school after finding out the police had been called, she entered a classroom to find a pair of police officers “standing over my very small nephew,” saying things like, “Don’t lie to us, Ethan. When you’re older, we could arrest you for things like this.”

Ethan, meanwhile, “was curled up in a ball underneath a desk, rocking back and forth and sobbing. His face was swollen and red from crying for so long.”

When Ethan was taken to the hospital, he was quickly sent home. “They were like, ‘Why is this child even here?’ It was a colossal waste of time,” Ethan’s aunt told Kramer. Ethan’s mother says the family received a hefty bill for the unnecessary ambulance and hospital visits caused by school 911 calls.

New York City schools have long had a problem with unnecessary police calls over student misbehavior. In 2013, six parents of children with disabilities sued the city, arguing that the police calls violated their children’s constitutional rights and violated federal law by sending children to hospitals unnecessarily.

Following a 2014 settlement in that case, New York City schools agreed to implement a series of policy changes, mandating that school employees use “every effort” to de-escalate the student’s problematic behavior and only requiring employees to call for police help when students present an “imminent and substantial risk of serious injury” to themselves or others.

However, this hasn’t caused the number of police calls to decline. According to Kramer, in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, New York public and charter schools called police on distressed students an average of 3,300 times. Since 2017 (excluding 2020 and 2021 due to COVID school closures), police have been called an average of 3,200 times each year.