Volume 73, Number 43 | February 25 - March 2, 2004

Irving students give mixed reviews of new security

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Police officers outside Washington Irving High School on E. 17th St.

Nearly a month after City Hall dispatched 150 police officers to the city’s most crime-plagued schools, students at Washington Irving High School had mixed reviews for the officers stationed at their Gramercy building.

The school received approximately seven officers from a task force created by Mayor Mike Bloomberg to combat crime in 12 of the city’s 1,200 public schools. That one percent accounted for a disproportionate number of serious incidents citywide, Bloomberg said earlier this month as he pledged to eliminate violence in city schools.

Some students gave his plan high marks.

“It’s good — there’s more safety now,” said Cynthia Carrera, 15, a sophomore at Washington Irving.

Carrera said fewer students hung out in the hallways since the officers arrived.

Others weren’t so sure.

“I don’t like these cops — they’re going after the wrong kids,” said Stephanie Perez, 15, a sophomore. “They’re forgetting the good kids who are there to learn.”

“I personally don’t like them,” said Hakim McLoed, 16, a junior. “I think they’re racist, too,” he added, saying that cops harassed him as he waited for a friend outside the school.

The number of officers patrolling Washington Irving actually decreased on Feb. 2 when it received its allotment of the 150-member task force. Police presence at the school spiked after a December protest held by parents, students and teachers who objected to what they called dangerous conditions there.

Some observers said they don’t notice much difference at the school between the peak police presence in January and the current citywide initiative that began in February.

“I don’t feel the tone of the building has changed,” said Jenny Bailey, an employee of the Union Square Partnership who directs an after-school program at Washington Irving. “The number of police has decreased, but I don’t feel the school has gotten more unruly.”

Teachers generally applauded the police presence but noted that cops alone won’t solve the underlying causes of school violence.

“It feels like a safer environment,” a school worker who requested anonymity said on Monday.

“The teachers at Washington Irving absolutely love the police officers in this building,” said Gregg Lundahl, a social studies teacher at the school who serves as the teachers’ union representative, speaking in late January.

Even so, Lundahl said that the police presence was a “band-aid” on the larger problem of school violence. To curb the overall problem, officials must establish clearer and more consistent consequences for inappropriate behavior, Lundahl said. For example, schools need better enforcement of the “three-strikes-you’re-out” rule, he said, as well as better off-site centers to handle offenders and more school security officers or non-N.Y.P.D. security personnel.

Denise DiCarlo, the school’s principal, did not return several calls for comment.

Bailey said students were sensitive about their school’s image and the negative press that the police presence has brought. Some feared the attention could lower the value of their diplomas, she said.

Other students said the police are not such a big deal.

“At first it was weird, but we got used to it,” said Iola Hall, 17, a senior. Hall said she noticed fewer officers around the school this month, but she acknowledged that the police had left their mark: “They made a dramatic change in people’s behavior.”


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