Editorial | More NYC school safety agents mean more safety in schools

School safety agents
School safety agents in Brooklyn circa de Blasio administration era.
NYC Mayoral Photography Unit

The NYPD School Safety Agents assigned to the city’s public schools play a critical role in keeping the 1.1 million public school students safe in peaceful environments.

So why is the City of New York hiring less of them?

The city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) reported this week that the Adams administration cut some 300 vacant agent positions this year. Meanwhile, the overall agent roster has dropped to 4,100 citywide. Last year alone, some 832 vacant agent positions were also quietly removed from the city’s budget.

Even with the city hiring 250 more school safety agents this May, as the Adams administration says, it’s still not nearly enough to adequately protect our schools.

The IBO contends that the cuts were the result of attrition and citywide efforts to keep costs down. “After two years of overbudgeting, the school safety agent budget has been reduced to be more in line with recent spending and now reflects the decline in headcount over the past two years,” according to the budget report.

In 2020, the city spent $395 million on school safety agents; that figure is now down about $40 million, according to the IBO. The starting salary for a school safety agent is pitiful, about $35,000 a year — or $3,800 more than the minimum wage for a full-time job in New York City ($31,200).

The costs of having school safety agents is minimal in a city that will flirt with, or exceed, a twelve-figure budget this coming fiscal year, beginning in July. Yet it’s more than dollars and cents — it’s also about the safety of students, faculty and administration citywide.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a spate of violent incidents across the city involving young people at or near public schools. 

Tuesday alone saw three shooting incidents steps away from education centers in Upper Manhattan; in one episode, a 17-year-old boy was shot multiple times in the abdomen.

Monday in Queens, a 15-year-old boy was stabbed outside of August Martin High School after dismissal. 

Could extra school safety agents have prevented these crimes? There are no guarantees. However, the presence of these uniformed agents, wearing the NYPD logo, add a visible sense of security — and may convince those who would do harm at or near these schools to think twice.

The situation is no different than the subways. For many riders, the influx of NYPD officers underground has been a welcome sense of security designed to deter crime in transit.

We don’t need police officers in every school in New York. But making sure there are enough school safety agents assigned to each building, to keep a watchful eye over students and protect them from internal and external threats, is not too much to ask.