Congressman Asks House Education Committee To Look At Pre-Crime Program Targeting Florida Schoolkids

from the legitimate-use-of-'won't-someone-think-of-the-children?' dept

Late last year, the Tampa Bay Times broke the news the local sheriff's office had set up a "pre-crime" program targeting schoolkids in Pasco County. The same program used by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to harass residents into "moving or suing" (yes, those are the Sheriff's words) had been retooled to target minors, utilizing highly questionable access to students' records.

Some deputies made dozens of visits a year to residents that the Office had declared pre-criminals, citing them missing mailbox numbers or overgrown grass. What's in line for students being subjected to the same scrutiny isn't clear, but the Sheriff's broad list of indicators is pretty disturbing. According to the Sheriff, potentially criminal minors were students with low grades, spotty attendance, and/or were victims/witnesses of domestic violence.

The program itself was disturbing. But the Sheriff's access to student records appeared to be illegal. A privacy group dug into the laws surrounding the use of student records and came to the conclusion this program violated federal privacy protection laws, namely FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act).

While educators may have been able to share some records with School Resource Officers working with the Sheriff's Department, they were forbidden from sharing those records with the Sheriff's Office -- at least not without parental consent. Parental involvement in any of this pre-crime BS appears to be minimal. In fact, most parents (and administrators) appeared to be unaware the program even existed before the Tampa Bay Times uncovered it with public records requests.

Now the program has drawn the attention of Congress.

Denouncing the program as promoting “racial bias” and further feeding the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a U.S. congressman Tuesday called for a federal investigation into the Pasco school district’s practice of sharing student data with law enforcement.

“This use of student records goes against the letter and the spirit of (the federal student privacy law) and risks subjecting students, especially Black and Latino students, to excessive law enforcement interactions and stigmatization,” said U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott, a Virginia Democrat and the chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, in a letter to the acting federal education secretary.

The letter [PDF] points out the Sheriff's program blatantly ignores FERPA to give the Office a way to turn students into criminals, even if they have never committed a crime in their (short) lives.

Despite these clear restrictions, a recently uncovered “Intelligence-Led Policing Manual” indicates that a public school district has been releasing FERPA-protected education records to its local sheriff’s office, so that the sheriff can “identify at-risk youth who are destined to a life of crime.” The sheriff’s office collects information from FERPA-protected records on “student’s grades, attendance, and behavior.” Using these records, the sheriff categorizes students by what it claims is their likelihood of “becoming prolific offenders” effectively creating a school to prison pipeline and determining their outcomes for them. Additionally, the sheriff collects data from other state agencies on children’s social networks and whether children have experienced abuse or other trauma, which it claims “significantly increase[s] their likelihood of developing into serious, violent, and chronic . . . offenders.” To be clear, though the sheriff’s intelligence report refers to these children as “potential offenders,” this is not a list of juvenile offenders, but a list of children that may have committed no crimes.

More locally, the Pasco County Parents and Teachers Association is calling for the school district to reconsider its data-sharing agreements with the Sheriff's Office and to ensure its participation is actually lawful. More reasonable parents are demanding the program be stopped completely.

So far, the school district has only offered this vapid statement:

The school district said it planned to “assure the PTA County Council that our agreements with the Sheriff’s Office are routinely reviewed and, when appropriate, revised or updated.”

Obviously, this isn't true. If they were routinely reviewed, someone who actually gave a damn would have spotted the federal privacy law violations well before a local newspaper and privacy activists did. This statement means nothing more than the district is waiting for the furor to die down before getting back to pre-crime business as usual.

And the last sentence of this paragraph pretty much directly contradicts the hollow claim data-sharing agreements are "routinely reviewed."

But asked directly, [the district] declined to say whether it would act on any of the PTA’s requests, whether it was reviewing the Sheriff’s Office program, or whether Superintendent Kurt Browning had learned anything about the program since he told a reporter he was unaware data was being used this way in September.

The district's apparent plan to wait this thing out isn't working. At least not yet. It's been on the radar since last November. And now it's going federal. Someone's going to be forced to take some action soon. Hopefully, it will be the school district reaching for the program's cord and pulling the plug on this abomination attempting to pass itself off as good police work.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: congress, ferpa, florida, pasco county, pre-crime, privacy, robert scott


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 6:09am

    So a secret list, using secret algorithms, to predict criminals are sent to law enforcement for... reasons?

    This is a blatant attempt to 'catch them' before they create 'bigger crimes', which just means they have a target on their back and that when these kids are flagged in the future for a routine traffic stop, they'll be imprisoned because they are on a 'list'

    I also love the words that are used "destined to a life of crime", "potential offenders"... it shows me that these callous cops are not trying to intervene and help these children, they are just looking for an easy mark to justify their existence.

    God forbid they actually befriend these kids, involve themselves into the lives of their community members, offer them internships, a soccer league, or you know... a counselor or therapy. Nope. Better just harass their families for no reason. That is a heck of a lot easier.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 2:32pm

      Re:

      just means they have a target on their back and that when these kids are flagged in the future for a routine traffic stop, they'll be imprisoned because they are on a 'list'

      That's a feature. If being on the list makes life sufficiently difficult, that helps the list become correct—i.e., the people on the list will be destined to a life of crime. And then there will be valid statistics to help sell the tech to other police departments.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        BernardoVerda (profile), 26 Jan 2021 @ 12:41am

        Re: Re:

        In other words, this list is set up to be self-fulfilling prophecy.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 12:07am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Less of a self-fulfilling prophecy and more like a...logical progression of the demographic in question; US Law Enforcement has simply advanced from hunter-gatherers to farming.

          It's brilliant, in a way. If you can grow your own crooks to eventually harvest...I mean, arrest, rather than have to do a lot of foot-slogging and paperwork finding them and tracking them down in the wild, then that's a great leap for police officers everywhere insofar as that it makes their "job" much easier. As long as the job only consists of meeting a quota of collars made rather than, say, serve and protect.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 6:44am

    Wrong book…

    Late last year, the Tampa Bay Times broke the news the local sheriff's office had set up a "pre-crime" program targeting schoolkids in Pasco County. The same program used by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to harass residents into "moving or suing" (yes, those are the Sheriff's words) had been retooled to target minors, utilizing highly questionable access to students' records.

    All this time we've been reading Orwell's 1984 as a prescient premonition when we should've been reading Dick's Minority Report instead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 7:25am

      Re: Wrong book…

      Is the book significantly different than the movie?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 7:59am

        Re: Re: Wrong book…

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 8:09am

        Re: Re: Wrong book…

        In the 'book' (actually a short story) the twist is that all three reports are minority reports. The first report has him killing someone, the second report has him viewing the first report and NOT killing them, which leads to the precrime division being disbanded (and is implied to lead to America being taken over by a military junta) and in the third report he ends up going through with the murder to prevent the events of the second report.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 2:55pm

          As opposed to the movie, where the climax is set up in such a way that it could be either reality or fantasy (depending on which interpretation you’d prefer to use).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 27 Jan 2021 @ 12:15am

      Re: Wrong book…

      "All this time we've been reading Orwell's 1984 as a prescient premonition when we should've been reading Dick's Minority Report instead."

      1984 became reality in the 2000's. Every political outcry since has been the result of people persistently trying to undo some of that while the body politic keeps clinging to the mass surveillance state with a white-knuckled dead man's grip.

      Being able to point a finger at the guy most likely to being inconvenient and have them put away before they have a chance of becoming that is just the next leap of progress, and we know of 74 million americans who will be all-in on the idea that some people are just born criminals. Especially the brown ones.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 7:42am

    I think the community should set up a similar program for law enforcement before they infringe on the public’s rights in more egregious ways. Looks like we might already have a list started.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 8:12am

    Maybe I should move to Pasco County

    Obviously there is no real crime there and the Sheriffs are so bored they have to troll school records to give themselves something to do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 8:13am

    Treat Them Like Criminals Before It Is Too Late

    This is a perfect demonstration of the US criminal justice system. They were able to put a system in place that they believed would predict which children were at greatest risk to engage in criminal activity. Their solution was to just go ahead and treat them like criminals rather than intervene and help people they believed were in the greatest need. Rather than treat the problem they decided to just keep feeding a system that destroys lives rather than prevents any kind of relief.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 8:19am

    This is why those often forgotten off cycle/down ballot elections are so important. Everyone worries about who is President, Senator or Representative. But this program was created and approved by locally elected Sheriff and School Officials. As are things like Resource Officer contracts. Pay attention to these elections and go vote.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TKnarr (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 8:52am

    When they titled the film "Minority Report", it was accurate in far more ways than they intended.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 9:09am

    Re: Educational Program

    And what does this ad for Youth Crime Watch add to the discussion? Why should I care about the link in the context of the discussion being had?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 9:44am

      Re: Re: Educational Program

      And what does this ad for …?

      If you don't want to visit a link, then you can try taking a look at Google's cached version of a webpage. For example—

      https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:https://heritagedesignbuildgrou p.com/residential-design-services/

      In this case, even though I didn't visit the original link myself, I doubt the page has changed much since Google's snapshot on Jan 21, 2021 18:50:13 GMT.

      TL,dr; It's spam. So just hit report and move on. No need to clutter up comments trying to get some kind of answer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        R.H. (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 12:57pm

        Re: Re: Re: Educational Program

        In this case, it appears to be a spam-bot that scanned the article and is using some sort of algorithm to write a sentence or two that, at first glance, look related (followed, of course, by the spam link). This is a sign that the bots are (slowly) getting smarter.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 1:12pm

          Re: Re: Re: Re: Educational Program

          … a sign that the bots are (slowly) getting smarter.

          But apparently not smart enough to spot use of a nofollow attribute here.

          <a href='https://www.example.com/' rel="nofollow">

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 25 Jan 2021 @ 9:31am

    And

    Does this Help/fix/improve Anything to do with their lives?
    Do we get an age with this?
    Are we talking about Kids, and police are NOT making a good impression, or even trying to Improve their minds BY helping the parents improve or Fix things?
    Are these Teens, who may already have an idea of life, and MIGHT want a change or are willing to look at a Different way of dealing with LIFE.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 1:23pm

    Time to replace your school board and sherriff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Jan 2021 @ 7:43pm

    Role Models No Longer

    No wonder that, other than the small percentage of sociopathic bullies, so few contemporary kids talk about wanting to grow up to be cops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.