Amid an alarming surge in student gun seizures, NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison revealed Monday that the city’s school safety agent force has plunged by 36 percent in recent years.
Speaking at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s daily briefing, Harrison said their ranks has eroded from a high of 5,000 to just 3,200 currently.
The senior cop’s comments came after five guns — several of them loaded — were confiscated from students inside city schools just last week.
Officials were also jarred by viral footage of a violent brawl at Susan Wagner High School on Staten Island on Friday that left a safety agent tumbling to the floor and a dean blooded while retrieving a student’s knife.
De Blasio effusively praised the agents and the NYPD for the firearm confiscations Monday and highlighted their collaborative role in maintaining school safety.
“The work of our school safety agents, the work of the NYPD, has kept our schools much safer than they used to be,” de Blasio said. “Much much safer than they used to be.”
“School safety, NYPD, they’ve done a great job of finding these weapons before they can do any harm, thank God,” he said.
School Chancellor Meisha Porter was equally vigorous in extolling the unarmed agents, who are 90 percent black and Hispanic and 70 percent women.
“I want to thank the NYPD, Chief Harrison, for their partnership,” she said. “Our goal is to keep our students and our communities safe together. And also really want to thank the school safety agents. I think what’s important to note is that recognizing that we got those weapons off the street also recognizes that our systems are working.”
Monday’s commendations come amid an ongoing City Hall push to transfer control of school safety agents from the NYPD to the Department of Education.
Critics of the current school safety structure argue that the agents — and metal detectors — promote a hostile and antagonistic climate for city students.
Upper West Side City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal said the agents are part of a “paramilitary” organization at a February meeting where several lawmakers recoiled at a plan to hire 475 new agents.
Councilman Mark Treyger was also critical of that proposal, and has long argued that some of the monies earmarked for school safety agents would be better used to hire more social workers and guidance counselors.
Heightened emphasis in those areas, he and others assert, would help to preemptively curb misconduct in the nation’s largest school system.
Other advocacy groups have called for the outright elimination of school safety agents from city schools and characterize their affiliation with the NYPD as inherently toxic, calls that intensified in the aftermath of the police slaying of George Floyd last year.
Harrison said Monday that 250 additional agents will augment the current force in November — the first new agents since 2019.
School safety agent union chief Greg Floyd juxtaposed the public embrace of school safety agents at Monday’s press conference with City Hall’s concurrent policy pursuits.
“Their words don’t match their actions,” he said Monday. “The actions under Mayor de Blasio are to remove school safety from the police department and place them with the Department of Education. Today’s press conference contradicts his actions from last year.”
The DOE said Monday that handing school safety duties to them will improve stability and safety in city schools.
“School Safety Agents are a crucial reason why our schools are safe — the transition to DOE will allow for even greater integration into school communities,” said spokesman Nathaniel Styer.
Agent staffing shortfalls have been exacerbated by the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for all DOE staffers. Roughly 400 school safety agents have been removed from payroll for not complying with the mandate.
Hundreds of school safety agents refused to take the shot and have since been taken off payroll and removed from DOE buildings.
Ongoing personnel deficits were thrown into graphic relief last week with the chaotic brawl at Wagner and other violent incidents at city schools.
Wagner normally staffs about 14 safety agents but only had seven on hand during Friday’s melee, officials said.