Nannies Gone Wild

Bob Herbert writes:

Michael Soguero was a first-rate principal at Bronx Guild High School. He loved his job, and he loved teaching in New York. He has not blamed the New York City Police Department for his departure to a school in Estes Park, Colo. Nevertheless, the facts are the facts.

Back on Feb. 3, 2005, a student came running into Mr. Soguero’s office at Bronx Guild to say that a police officer was in a classroom. “I jumped up and ran to the classroom,” Mr. Soguero told me in an interview last week. “I found this officer, Gonzalez, exchanging words with a female student.

“Everyone is sitting down except for the teacher and these two. The girl was saying, ‘What did I do? What are you talking to me about?’ ”

What was about to unfold was another episode of bizarrely excessive police activity inside a New York City public school.

The girl, who was 16, had apparently uttered a curse word in a hallway. While that is undoubtedly inappropriate behavior, it is hardly a criminal offense. The police officer, Juan Gonzalez, who was part of a security task force assigned to the school, had followed the girl into the classroom.

Mr. Soguero quieted things down and asked the officer to leave the room, which he did. “I got the girl to sit down and I told her I would talk to her later to address this,” Mr. Soguero said. He thought the crisis was over.

Not so. When Soguero walked out of the classroom, the police officer was still standing there, waiting for the girl. He – officer Gonzales – told Soguero that he wanted to arrest the girl. Soguero obviously did not agree with that and told the officer that he would not allow that to happen. Officer Gonzales ignored Soguero and walked into the classroom, pushing aside tables, and students, grabbing the student’s arm and reaching back to grab his cuffs. “At that moment,” Soguero explains, “I walked around him and physically stood in between the two of them.”

Officer Gonzales did not, however, back down. Instead he arrested the girl, principal Soguero and an aide who wanted to help Soguero. Once they were arrested, the three were paraded before ‘in front of news photographers in a humiliating “perp walk”.’ Police Commissioner Ray Kelly even had the guts to say that ‘The principal was simply wrong.’

As Herbert points out, there is one little problem with the police commisioner’s statement: no crime was committed “and the charges were later dropped.” More: police now tell Bob Herbert that officer Gonzales is something of a problem childcop. His guns and badge have been taken away a while ago, and he is currently on “modified assignment.”

The sad thing, however, that this is not an isolated incident. According to Herbert, these things happen more often than most people think. Police harass students and teachers quite often, and even abuse them and arrest them for, frankly, absolutely nothing. Especially, again according to Herbert, Latino and Black students are often the victims of too, umh, active police officers.

Frankly, I consider it to be ludicrous that police officers are parading in schools. This sounds like a completely different world to me. In the Netherlands, we do not have anything quite like it. I understand that if it truly is necessary, one could check people at the door on the possession of guns, knives, etc., but to have police officers working literally in schools, sounds a bit extreme to me.

My question to you, therefore, is: how normal is this in the US?

I also wonder why having them patrol outside and checking people at the entrance is not enough. This must be quite a frustrating job for those police officers as well. They are trained to fight crime, to deal with true criminals, instead they have become nannies.


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2 Responses to Nannies Gone Wild

  1. Darrell Prows says:

    Michael: We have pockets in bigger cities where gangs are prevalent, and it carries over into schools. I’m thinking that if contraband gets smuggeled into prisons (another reality in this country) some stuff will always be able to find its way into schools. Many schools do at least some drug testing.

    But there are other complexities here that might not be the same for your place. We have the famous offense of “driving while black” (or brown) that exists as a constant reality is the lives of many minorities. That’s a symptom of a social dynamic.

    We also take a whole different approach to law and order, if I understand your system correctly. A first offense sentence here might well be five years, with most of it served inside. We literally have some people in this country serving life without release who don’t have a single serious conviction on their record.

    Our schools are a reflection of our society. As a society, we are exhibiting police state tendencies that are becoming truly problematical, and that same dynamic spills over into our schools.

  2. Ginny Cotts says:

    Cops in the schools became more prevalent after Columbine. (My kids were in the same school district and close to that high school. My son was a senior) Before that, there was ususally an officer or two who were assigned to the schools and would be there at times just to establish a relationship and presence in the hope that if a kid needed help, there would be a cop they knew and maybe trusted. Some areas where gang violence is a problem do have door screening. And the cops still have to be in the halls, according to what is reported.

    Drugs are a huge problem in schools anywhere there is easy access to them in the community. My daughter once received an engraved invitation to an ecstasy party. After several years of maintaining her “I don’t do drugs” response, the kids had pretty well stopped offering or asking.

    One day a cop came into one of her classes and told the teacher she had to come with him to the parking lot because drugs had been found near her car. This was in front of the class, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. She went with them, they searched the car, found nothing. Going back to classes, it became apparent this had spread quickly and the kids had decided she was using.

    The principal was appropriately upset and promised to change the approach immediately. Fortunately, the kids soon figured out it was a stupid mistake and left her alone.

    The drug use problem adds to issues of fighting, etc. And it is hard to confiscate all metal – the notebooks and backpacks ususally have some. Some of these kids are pretty screwed up, so it isn’t much like being nannies.

    My differentiation between a lot of European countries and here, is that our society is far more based on the nuclear family. We don’t have as much contact with extended families, we don’t know our neighbors, the kids often don’t know many other kids in the schools, even those that do go to church may not have members in their schools. It creates a very disconnected society with poor support or social systems. The huge size of our states and many metro areas are another problem. I doubt many Europeans would understand the sense of distance many Americans have for even state and local elected officials. National are really out of reach.

    There is also, from my understanding, a different religious influence here. American Christianity, despite the separation of church and state, wields a lot of influence on our culture. The tremendous influence for the past 3 decades is from the denominations that adhere more to the old testament God than the new testament. The world is an evil place and parents have to protect their children from the evil-doers. The rapture and other aspects of the final days predicted in the Bible are considered very very real and imminent. (There was a LOT of bizarre stuff going on just before 1/01/2000. Quite a few folks had invested in property and provisions to survive the mayhem they were convinced would start with the new year.)

    The overuse of police and mandatory sentencing is a direct result of this influence. These people do not want forgiveness, they want everyone that does not meet with their idea of a safe member of society sentenced to hell. Gotta keep those evil-doers off the streets and confined.

    America also has a well documented love of the old west gun fighters justice. Our stats are terrible and although I think gun regulation is as important as licensing cars and drivers, gun control is an oxymoron on the order of Conservative Think Tank.

    The NYC police force has had a poor history in race relations and excessive force. Guilliani had better get a lot of serious exposure on the problems during his term – which reeked of violence against blacks and minorities.

    DWB, as Darrell said, is a nationwide problem that is also blatant. One couple I heard comment about this had adopted 4 sons. 3 white, one black. All raised with the same expectations, all fine as far as the family and schools were concerned. Until the black kid kept getting pulled over by the cops for the ususal stupid reasons.

    To sum it all up, we live with a lot of self-inflicted stress.
    Now, aren’t you even happier you live in the Netherlands?