By Tandy Lau
New York City students can expect ABCs, 123s, and YCOs this spring semester. A reported increase of NYPD Youth Coordination Officers in schools — from the initial quota of 350 cops — was confirmed to the Amsterdam News by a department statement this week.
“In response to recent incidents, the NYPD is increasing the number of Youth Coordination Officers (YCOs) citywide,” said a police spokesperson by email. “These officers will be assigned to sergeants who will supervise the YCOs. Additionally, precinct administrative personnel will be utilized to patrol dismissals at designated schools and we will ensure that Transit District School Safety Teams are strategically deployed.”
Two students and a security guard were shot outside a Williamsburg charter school last Wednesday, Feb. 8. All three are reportedly in stable condition. Another two teenagers were shot in the Brooklyn neighborhood near another school just two days before, reported NBC New York. Last month, three teens—including a 13-year-old subsequently charged with murder—were arrested for their alleged involvement in the fatal stabbing of Coney Island high school student Nyheem Wright.
On paper, the added police presence is tasked with not just responding to such violence but preventing it in the future.
YCOs date back to 2020 under the Bill de Blasio administration, while the NYPD was led by then-Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. These officers are tasked with crime prevention, focusing on intervention long before at-risk youngsters end up in handcuffs. The program deploys cops to interact with such students, partnering with community groups and non-police agencies in the process. Shea predicted YCOs would serve as “force multipliers” for preemptively saving lives and keeping families intact.
But three years in, critics argue there’s a lack of data or peer-reviewed research proving the program actually reduces violence. Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) Deputy Director Josmar Trujillo calls the increase of YCOs a “regressive step,” unmoved by the NYPD’s attempts to merge policing with community solutions and restorative justice.
“You cannot have police officers masquerading as social workers,” he said. “Police officers don’t have training to really tackle root causes. They use the identity of being seen as nicer officers to have more access to people to monitor them. At the end of the day, the role of police officers is enforcement.
“The idea that officers need to be intertwined with community solutions, to me, is a lie. A myth. Social workers are social workers. Counselors are counselors.”
Trujillo also pointed out that collaboration between school staff and YCOs can erode student trust in social workers, counselors, and other campus resources, preventing at-risk youngsters from seeking them out due to concerns about mandated police reporting. He attributed the recent youth violence to the exacerbation of poverty and stress by the COVID-19 pandemic rather than the absence of police.
Former City Council member and long-time educator Inez Barron also expressed concerns about more YCOs in schools for students of color.
“We know that encounters that Black and Latino have with the NYPD can be very catastrophic and even deadly. I don’t think that they should be positioned in schools,” said Barron. “ I know they say, ‘Well, they’re there to assist with the school safety’ [but] I think that the money that’s going to be allocated for these additional 100 or so new YCOs should have been put into the Department of Education (DOE) to provide for social workers [and] for other kinds of consultation and programs so that children can get to the underlying causes of what it is that [has] them act out and be violent and get on social media and bully other children.”
Anari, a high school sophomore in Staten Island and student activist whose last name is withheld due to privacy concerns, opposes additional YCOs in New York City schools based on personal experience.
“People shouldn’t be shooting people in the first place, so the city should be figuring out how to stop that from happening, not putting more police in our schools,” she said. “YCOs don’t keep students safe or prevent violence. They only come in after violence has already occurred. It’s nerve-racking to see more armed cops coming into our schools. No matter where I go, in my school or neighborhood, cops are always there.
“That’s not the case in other, whiter areas of Staten Island. We know that the safest schools and communities have the most resources, not the most cops. The city should focus on things that actually prevent violence, like more restorative justice in our schools and affordable housing in our neighborhoods.”
Critics do acknowledge that proponents’ concerns for school safety are valid, especially after the recent shootings.
“It’s totally understandable for people to want to have solutions and we have consistently told people that police equate to public safety, so it’s understandable for people to have that reaction because they want something done,” said Trujillo. “And sometimes it feels like the long-term solutions of more counselors, mediation, restorative justice—things that don’t sound like they have immediate payoff—may seem far-fetched.
“But I would caution against people [risking] increased [profiling] and harassment and cutting off the trust of young people who are, unfortunately, a hard population to reach.”
“You would think that those measures would reduce crime, but they don’t,” said Barron. “When things are counterintuitive, and when they go against what you have held as your belief for lo these many years, it’s very difficult and challenging to have them examined in another light, but that’s certainly what we have to try to do to get them to understand.”
A DOE spokesperson emphasized that YCOs are exclusively NYPD employees, but welcomed the news.
“Our schools are safe havens for our students, and the safety and well-being of all of our students is our absolute top priority,” she said. “Safety is the responsibility [of] the entire community and through Project Pivot, we are partnering deeply with the community to engage our students and ensure they are engaged in safe, positive activities in and outside of school. We appreciate the NYPD for taking this step to ensure our young people are safe when traveling to and from schools, and in their communities. We will continue to work alongside our agency partners and, importantly, the members of our communities, to wrap our arms around our schools to ensure our students are safe.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.