HARLEM, Manhattan (PIX11) — Even though the overall number of students in New York City public schools is down slightly this school year, according to the Department of Education, the number of weapons seized in schools is up significantly over last year. It’s a situation that has students, families, educators and law enforcement all looking closely at whether or not schools are safe enough.
Deputy Inspector Kevin Taylor, the second-in-command of the School Safety Agents (SSA) division of the NYPD, laid out the numbers in an interview.
“We’ve confiscated over 21 firearms from schools this year versus five last year. And other weapons,” he said, including knives, stun guns and brass knuckles had “over 5,000 [seized] versus just over 2,000 last year.”
That’s more than double for non-firearms, and more than quadruple for firearms.
Taylor said that those numbers are higher this year because both agents and police officers are searching more.
“We went from doing one school a day to where we’re doing five or six a day,” Taylor said.
Taylor said that SSAs set up mobile magnetometers in schools, unannounced, especially after there has been a shooting or other violent incident in a particular neighborhood.
“We come into the school, and the students don’t know, and here they are,” Taylor said. “They’re presented with it almost like going to an airport.”
However, not everyone believes the higher number of weapons seized is due to more inspections.
“A lot of kids are afraid,” said Tameka Harris, the grandmother of an elementary school student she was picking up from school, when she spoke with PIX11 News. “And a lot of parents say ‘Do what you’ve got to do!'” to their children, she said. “It’s fear.”
Charlene Sanders, a parent at P.S. 200 in Harlem, said that another reason students may bring weapons is a lack of trust and an abundance of frustration.
“A lot of children feel like they can’t talk to school aides or teachers,” Sanders said.
With the rise in the number of weapons, and in the aftermath of the Uvalde elementary school shooting, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell is visiting schools. She said that it’s to listen to students’ concerns about safety and to let them know that law enforcement is available to help students navigate through both real and perceived threats.
“Overwhelmingly,” Sewell said in an interview, “things there are something they saw on the internet or TV.”
Sewell also said that on her school visits, she’s telling students how they can help to reduce violence, peacefully.
“[If] they see someone who is being bullied or ostracized by their fellow student, they should tell someone,” she said.
Meanwhile, the president of the school safety agents union, Gregory Floyd, said that SSAs positions are understaffed citywide. He added that an attack on a teacher in April of this school year shows how.
An estranged boyfriend of the teacher assaulted her at P.S. 69 in the Bronx, and the SSA responded.
“We had one school safety agent, when we used to have two,” said Floyd. “The result was the school safety agent was stabbed in the neck.”
The agent survived, and another teacher provided a description of the attacker that resulted in Taylor, coincidentally, making the arrest.
Still, the union president says that the increase in weapons seized in schools this year means more work for the agents, and that they need to increase their ranks significantly.
“Do I see a progress of maybe 200 to 300” more SSAs? he asked. “Maybe, but not nearly enough to see that the school system is safe.”
He said that adding about 2,000 more SSAs, a similar number to those that have been reduced from the force in the last few years, is needed.