The Pasco Sheriff’s Office in Florida has a secret list of over 400 students they believe could ‘fall into a life of crime‘ based on factors like whether they have gotten a D or an F in school and whether they have been abused or disciplined at school.
Both state and federal law protect the records used by the sheriff’s office to make the list, comprised of students from Pasco County high and middle schools.
Authorities use data from both the Pasco County School District and the Department of Children and Families. Data from the district shows which students are struggling academically, have missed too many classes, or have been disciplined repeatedly at the schools. FDCF data shows which children have been either victims to abuse or witnesses to household violence.
Parents of the students are completely unaware of their child’s presence on the list, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Children also do not have any indication that they are on the list.
Both state and federal law protect the records used by the sheriff’s office to make the list, comprised of students from Pasco County high and middle schools. Pasco County School District
The list was updated in October, according to internal emails obtained by the Times.
The Sheriff’s Office said in a written statements that the list is used to only help deputies assigned to the schools that offer ‘mentorship’ and ‘resources’ to students. They highlighted specific programs where school resource officers take students fishing and give others clothes when in need.
According to the agency, the practice of getting the data from the school district dates back 20 years and is used to keep school campuses safe.
Only a juvenile intelligence analyst and the school resource officers have access to the data and list of students, they added. The list are also only comprised of students where the agency provides school resource officers – some 30,000 students in the county’s high school’s and middle school.
Elementary schools are not included, even though some have armed security guards.
32 deputies are placed at the various middle and high schools, costing the district $2.3million a year to the Sheriff’s Office (a photo of deputies)
32 deputies are placed at the various middle and high schools, costing the district $2.3million a year to the Sheriff’s Office. The district also shares its Early Warning System with the agency, which tracks grades, attendance and behavior for students.
Florida law enforcement agencies also use the child welfare database – the Florida Safe Families Network – from the state DCF to investigate child abuse and to also search for missing children.
Additionally, the law agency uses its own records to see which children have been the subject of custody disputes, have violated county curfew, have run away from home and who have been caught with drugs or alcohol. They also look into which young people are friends with each other.
The Sheriff’s Office did assert that it has access to the data ‘lawfully’ and added that it makes school resource officers get trained annually on the federal student privacy law. The agency also sought to distance the list characterization as being one of potential criminals.
Information from the various areas used to score the kids off 16 different criteria or categories, assigning students one of four labels: on track, at risk, off track or critical
Little is required to get a student in the at risk section, including getting a D in a class or missing school three times
But school officers and other deputies are required to read an 82-page intelligence manual that mentions efforts to find children that could become criminals on five separate occasions.
Information from the various areas used to score the kids off 16 different criteria or categories, assigning students one of four labels: on track, at risk, off track or critical.
Little is required to get a student in the at risk section, including getting a D in a class or missing school three times, the manual reads.
At-risk children have been identified and monitored by the sheriff’s office since at least 2011, since Sheriff Chris Nocco first assumed the position.
At-risk children have been identified and monitored by the sheriff’s office since at least 2011, since Sheriff Chris Nocco first assumed the position
During that summer, hundreds of at home visits were conducted for at-risk kids. While they offered support for both the children and their families, school resource officers also questioned several about local crimes and arrested those who violated curfew or probation, news reported at the time.
The agency did assert that it looks for alternatives to arrest ‘when possible.’
In the manual, officers are encouraged to work with students to find ‘the seeds of criminal activity’ and to collect info that can help investigations.
‘Often SROs will hear about past, present or future crimes well before others in the law enforcement community,’ the manual reads.
School district superintendent Kurt Browning told the Times that he was unaware of the agency using the school data to identify kids who could become criminals. Two high school principals also expressed their shock.
However, Browning did express that he wasn’t concerned with the sheriff’s office actions.
‘We have an agreement with the Sheriff’s Office,’ he said. ‘The agreement requires them to use (the data) for official law enforcement purposes. I have to assume that’s exactly what they are using it for.’
Pasco County schools in the days of the pandemic
He later added: ‘If there is any need to revisit any aspect of our relationship, we will do so in a thoughtful manner with the goal of keeping our students and staff safe.’
Experts in law enforcement and student privacy called the program highly unusual adding that it stretched the limits of the law and was a misuse of children’s confidential information.
‘Can you imagine having your kid in that county and they might be on a list that says they may become a criminal?’ Linnette Attai, a consultant works with student privacy laws, said.
‘And you have no way of finding out if they are on that list?’
School district superintendent Kurt Browning said he was unaware of the program but did not find it concerning
Experts also warned that the singling out of children could be harmful, especially of those already distrusting of law enforcement. They slammed the effort as also being based in flawed science and likely biased against students of color and children with disabilities.
‘It is a recipe for violating people’s rights and civil liberties,’ said Harold Jordan, a American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania senior policy advocate.
The Sheriff’s Office said that the program was based on research, highlighting a 2015 study that found that students who experienced multiple childhood traumas were at a higher risk of becoming criminals.
That association was described as ‘extremely weak’ by David Kennedy, professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. His research is cited in the manual.
Kennedy said that the usage of the association to make predictions about children ‘flies in the face of the science.’
‘There’s nothing — absolutely nothing — that can be fed into even the most sophisticated algorithm or risk-assessment tool based on information available when someone is a child that can say this person is going to be a criminal later on, much less a serious prolific criminal,’ he declared.
Federal data shows that in Pasco County, Black students and students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended or referred to law enforcement.
The school district was recently slammed for having lax privacy practices after a state audit found last year that too many district employees had access to current and former students’ sensitive data. This included students social security numbers.
Some 570 employees had their privileges revoked as a result.
Linnette Attai advocated for the district to reevaluate its arrangement with the Sheriff’s Office.
‘This is a district that is sending millions of dollars to the sheriff of Pasco County to target its students as criminals,’ she said.