Last week, we had the opportunity to work with more than 5,000 school safety officers and agents from the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Ironically, on the same day that we were training 1,400 agents and officers, a rally was being held on the steps outside the Department of Education’s (DOE) headquarters calling for action to be taken on aggressive policing in the NYC schools. Ironic because we were brought there as a result of a unique partnership between the DOE and the NYPD.
We were privileged to be chosen to train the agents and officers in how better to understand extremely challenging behavior in their schools and what to do about it. We taught agents and officers our three options for handling problems (The Three Plans) and the steps of Collaborative Problem Solving (otherwise known as Plan B). As we did though, we also found our ourselves gaining greater empathy for the NYPD staff with each day as we better understood the challenges they faced in being tasked with keeping everyone safe while also often being brought in to help to enforce school rules. Fortunately, we also found most NYPD staff to agree that how the rules are enforced has a lot to do with whether or not an incident become a true safety issue and even a crime. The clear goal stated from NYPD School Safety Division leadership was to avoid summons and arrests whenever possible as we know they are usually the beginning of ongoing involvement in the juvenile justice system. Of course, we realize that that goal will remain elusive as long as the understanding of why students exhibit challenging behavior remains steeped in conventional wisdom. Together with the 5,000 agents and officers, we worked hard to chip away at conventional wisdom and suggest that what these students really need is in fact the true definition of discipline: to teach. They need officers and agents to have ways to enforce compliance, not via force or consequences but through building relationship and skills and solving problems together. We were thrilled to bring some new ideas to the agents and officers and very appreciative of their feedback and hard work. Stay tuned for next steps!