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NYPD quietly rolls out bulletproof vests for school safety agents | #schoolsaftey


Most of the school safety agents working in New York City schools have quietly added a new item to their uniforms: bulletproof vests.

A NYPD spokesperson confirmed that about 3,000 of the roughly 4,100 school safety agents across the city are now wearing “bullet resistant” vests since the department began distributing them this school year, with the rest on the way.

The police department is rolling out the vests citywide as a safety measure for the agents amid elevated levels of neighborhood youth gun violence and a spike in guns turning up at city schools in recent years. School safety agents don’t carry guns.

But the arrival of the vests has often come with little warning or explanation to school communities, stirring mixed reactions from families, educators, and school safety agents themselves.

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Alex Estes, the president of the Parent Teacher Association at the Neighborhood School in the East Village, was caught off guard when he noticed the safety agent at his son’s school wearing a vest last month.

“You’re not going to find a better-informed parent,” he said of his level of involvement, yet he had no idea about the change.

He worried about how the children at the elementary school where his son is in first grade might respond — or whether the youngest children might understand the change, hear things from older kids about the vests, or even be able to articulate their concerns. The children feel like the school is their home, and many hug their school safety agent, Estes said.

“They see her. They hug her. They care about her. Then all of a sudden … this hug has a bulletproof vest,” he said. “Five-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds aren’t fantastic about reporting what it is that’s making them uncomfortable, and the way this is rolling out is not taking that into account at all.”

An NYPD spokesperson didn’t respond to a question about what the department has done to prepare schools, aside from saying, “NYC Public Schools … have been notified.”

An Education Department spokesperson referred questions to the NYPD.

One Manhattan principal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the school was given “zero warning” that safety agents would be showing up in vests, even though administrators had met with school safety agents just days earlier.

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“The first people we see are school safety … to walk in and be greeted by bulletproof vests is alarming for students and staff,” the principal said. “Your immediate thought is, ‘What happened?’”

Some school safety agents feel conflicted about their new apparel

One Manhattan high school safety agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she appreciated the extra layer of protection, but worried about the “message” it communicated to students.

“I think we should have had a whole conversation with the schools first to prepare them,” the agent said. Though she believes that “kids can adapt” to the changes, some concerned parents asked whether there was a threat they should know about, the agent said. She feared that wearing a vest made it seem like safety agents weren’t succeeding at their jobs of keeping schools safe.

The plan to outfit school safety agents with vests, first reported last summer by the New York Daily News, follows a pilot program last year, and multiple years of lobbying from the union representing school safety agents. NYPD officials said the pilot program “aided in the safety of our School Safety Agents,” but didn’t provide further details, including where the pilot took place or how they determined its success.

The terms “bulletproof” and “bullet resistant” are often used interchangeably for vests, but some experts have said the former is a misnomer because vests aren’t impervious to all bullets.

No guns have been fired in city schools in decades, but multiple shootings have occurred right outside schools around dismissal time, including one in Williamsburg last February that injured two students and a security guard.

More than 20 guns were confiscated from students at city schools during the 2021-22 school year, a marked increase since before the pandemic. So far this school year, seven guns have been seized at schools, compared to nine during the same period last school year, according to the NYPD.

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The distribution of the vests is one of several changes school and police officials have made in response to the concerns about gun violence. Last school year, the NYPD changed the frequency of school safety agents’ radios to connect them more directly to NYPD precincts, and city schools are rolling out door locking and camera systems at all elementary schools this year.

Officials previously indicated that the door locking upgrades would cost around $78 million total. An NYPD spokesperson didn’t respond to a question about the cost of the vests.

One Brooklyn elementary school principal said he appreciated some of those recent safety upgrades. But the transition to bulletproof vests for school safety agents felt extreme.

“I would want her [the School Safety Agent] to be safe in all situations, but it seems like it’s going from zero to a hundred given that the door wasn’t even secured three months ago,” said the principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The agent has complained the vest is bulky and uncomfortable to wear all day, and “she doesn’t feel like there’s an active threat to her safety that [the vest] would protect her from.”

Bulletproof vests not supposed to be visible to students

The new vests are supposed to fly under the radar. An NYPD spokesperson said in a statement they are supposed to be “worn underneath the uniform shirt and may never be the outer most garment.”

But school safety agents who spoke to Chalkbeat said that their uniform shirts aren’t tailored to fit over the vests, and that they still haven’t received new shirts. They were wearing their vests outside their uniform shirts, though one was covering it with a sweater, and others wore their uniform-issued jackets over the vests.

The vests, which NYPD officials said are “durable and lightweight,” are supposed to be worn at all times when safety agents are on duty, including when they’re staffing “safe corridors” outside of schools to help students on their commutes.

Many families and educators still haven’t noticed the vests. For those who have, they’ve often come as a surprise.

Some schools are making their own efforts to inform their communities and answer any questions.

After their safety agent got her vest, the Neighborhood School administrators sent a note to families letting them know they would be paying attention to whether children bring up the issue, and they asked parents to encourage their children to talk to trusted adults at the school if they needed to.

Estes, the PTA president, feels frustrated overall with various moves to “harden” schools, believing the focus instead should be on reforming gun laws.

“We want to keep the security officers safe,” Estes said, “but the other problem I have with this is that every time we’re talking about school security measures, we are taking up the slack of the gun laws.”

Alex Zimmerman contributed to this story.

Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Michael at [email protected].

Amy Zimmer is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat New York. Contact Amy at [email protected].



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