Duval County Public Schools Police Underreported Crime, Gang Activity
A new report claims DCPS administrators told its police chief not to report petty acts of misconduct or misdemeanors to law enforcement.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) is launching its own investigation after a grand jury report released Thursday accused its police department of underreporting crime in its schools.
The 27-page document was the third interim report issued by the grand jury, which the court impaneled in Feb. 2019 at the request of Governor Ron DeSantis following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, reports WJCT. The statewide grand jury was established to review how well recommendations from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission are being implemented throughout the state.
While the interim report mostly focuses on the state’s mental health systems, the report pointed out issues with Florida schools’ abilities to differentiate criminal behavior from simple misbehavior. Out of Florida’s 67 counties and 74 school districts, DCPS was the only district called out directly in the report.
According to the report, DCPS police committed “outright fraud” by underreporting crime numbers and gang activity to make a better impression. The administration allegedly told DCPS Police Chief Michael Edwards not to report petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors to law enforcement.
“We have seen overwhelming evidence over the past eleven months that the rosy reports forwarded quarterly to the FDOE by local school districts are wildly inaccurate,” reads the report. “It is also apparent, though, that some incentives to ‘decrease the statistics’ are perverse. Administrators are rewarded with promotion or better jobs in larger districts; school police chiefs tout phony ‘reductions’ in arrests or reports while the actual activity proceeds unabated or accelerates; districts appear ‘safer on paper’ and thus more attractive to potential new (or even current) students and the funding they represent.”
The report also found gang-related incidents are underreported in Duval County. The grand jury said it had seen testimony and documentation of “widespread gang activity on school premises” but only six out of 30,000 incidents reported to the state from 2016-2020 were labeled “gang-related.”
“It appears to us that this number dramatically underrepresents the level of gang activity in Duval County schools,” the grand jury wrote. “No one is made safer by this chicanery. Indeed, this behavior is counterproductive.”
In a statement released Friday, DCPS said the report is based on findings over a number of years and that improvements have been made to procedures in recent years. The district also said it will seek an external review of its reporting practices to see whether charges are needed.
“The findings presented are being taken seriously and will be thoroughly reviewed by the Duval School Board,” said School Board Chair Elizabeth Andersen. “We are committed to providing a safe educational environment for our children and communities.”
Lieutenant Shannon Hartley of the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police, which has backed recommendations made by the grand jury, said the district should not be involved in the investigation.
“They’re changing their policies, but they’re changing their behavior to fit the data that they needed to fit to continue to get the funds that they need to get,” he said.
Similar Issues Found in Other Fla. School Districts
The report found similar issues are arising in districts across the state that have large student populations, appointed superintendents, and their own district police departments with leaders who report to administration rather than law enforcement agencies, according to New4Jax. DCPS is one of less than 20 districts in the state that have police agencies run by the school district.
When districts control law enforcement agencies on campus, the report said it allows the district to control the data generated by the agency “and the optics of that date — and optics, unfortunately, are what we hear most often drive some of the ‘policies defining petty acts of misconduct’ described in the statute.”
As a result, the grand jury recommends school district law enforcement chiefs across the state be required to be elected or to report to county law enforcement. It also recommends the Legislature “remove the ability of individual Districts to define those things which require a report to law enforcement.”
Regarding findings on the state’s mental health systems, the grand jury said it is “clear to us that inadequately addressed mental health issues have the peculiar potential to spiral out over time into criminal acts and violent behavior resulting in serious injury and loss of life.”
“This grand jury has received a great deal of evidence and testimony regarding financial deficiencies, conflicts between various agencies over information sharing and privacy, inadequate or inefficient provision of services and a number of other serious problems,” the report continued. “To put it bluntly, our mental health care ‘system’ – if one can even call it that – is a mess, and we have formulated a spate of recommendations for straightforward improvement and further study in this critical area.”
In the report, the grand jury called on the Legislature to form a commission to study mental health services in the state. The report also pointed to funding issues, indicating Florida provides less money per capita than any other state for mental health care and treatment.
“Even among states that do not collect income taxes, Florida is dead last,” the report said. “It is therefore important to highlight from the outset that correcting the deficiencies in our system of mental health care will require additional funding, but the Legislature must make this financial commitment intelligently so as to ensure that whatever funds it does provide are not wasted.”