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FL: Student Data Used to Tag Kids as Potential Criminals

July 26, 2021

In September 2020, the Tampa Bay Times published a piece, “Targeted,” about an intelligence-enabled invasion of privacy The writers waste no time getting to the point:

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco took office in 2011 with a bold plan: to create a cutting-edge intelligence program that could stop crime before it happened.

What he actually built was a system to continuously monitor and harass Pasco County residents, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.

First the Sheriff’s Office generates lists of people it considers likely to break the law, based on arrest histories, unspecified intelligence and arbitrary decisions by police analysts.

Then it sends deputies to find and interrogate anyone whose name appears, often without probable cause, a search warrant or evidence of a specific crime.

They swarm homes in the middle of the night, waking families and embarrassing people in front of their neighbors. They write tickets for missing mailbox numbers and overgrown grass, saddling residents with court dates and fines. They come again and again, making arrests for any reason they can.

If that’s not bad enough, this terrible program was allowed access to student data with the local school district’s blessing.

In November 2020, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Pasco County (FL) Schools was sharing student data with law enforcement without parental knowledge in order to enable the Pasco Sheriff’s Office to categorize students according to the alleged likelihood that a given student would “fall into a life of crime.”

Those students’ names were then put on a list.

Yep.

The criteria are outlined in a Sheriff’s Department manual. From the Tampa Bay Times article:

The Pasco Sheriff’s Office keeps a secret list of kids it thinks could “fall into a life of crime” based on factors like whether they’ve been abused or gotten a D or an F in school, according to the agency’s internal intelligence manual.

The Sheriff’s Office assembles the list by combining the rosters for most middle and high schools in the county with records so sensitive, they’re protected by state and federal law. …

The process largely plays out in secret. The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t tell the kids or their parents about the designation. In an interview, schools superintendent Kurt Browning said he was unaware the Sheriff’s Office was using school data to identify kids who might become criminals. So were the principals of two high schools. …

Ten experts in law enforcement and student privacy questioned the justification for combing through thousands of students’ education and child-welfare records.

They called the program highly unusual. Many said it was a clear misuse of children’s confidential information that stretched the limits of the law.

“Can you imagine having your kid in that county and they might be on a list that says they may become a criminal?” said Linnette Attai, a consultant who helps companies and schools comply with student privacy laws.

It seems that in response to the Tampa Bay Times reporting, the US Department of Education (USDOE) opened an investigation of the practice. The Orlando Sentinel via the Associated Press reported on this on April 19, 2021, though the USDOE has its most recent (and only 2021) investigation related to Pasco County Schools dated May 18, 2021. Apparently the USDOE investigation is pending. From the Sentinel:

NEW PORT RICHEY — The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into whether a Florida school district broke federal law when it shared private information about students with the local sheriff’s office.

The Pasco County School District shared information on student grades, discipline and attendance with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The agency then used the data to compile a list of students officials believed could “fall into a life of crime,” the newspaper reported.

The agency is already facing a federal lawsuit that the intelligence-based policing program violates people’s rights by improperly targeting and harassing them. Sheriff Chris Nocco’ rejects the claims in the lawsuit filed last month in Tampa.

The lawsuit referenced above was filed in March 2021. Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco is listed as the defendant; plaintiffs are three individuals allegedly harrassed by police in the name of future crime prevention. From the lawsuit’s introduction:

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office punishes people for crimes they have not yet committed and may never commit. It first predicts that certain people may commit future crimes, and then it harasses these people—and their relatives and friends—with relentless visits to their homes at all hours of the day, with unwarranted stops and seizures, and with repeated citations for petty code violations. In the words of a former Pasco deputy, the policy is meant to “[m]ake their lives miserable until they move or sue.” Here, four Pasco County residents sue under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, hereinafter the “PCSO,” has adopted an official policy and widespread custom of harassing individuals and their families because it thinks they are likely to commit unspecified future crimes. The PCSO refers to this policy and custom as its “Intelligence-Led Policing Program,” and for ease of reference this Complaint refers to this policy and custom simply as “the Program.” Under the Program, the PCSO uses questionable criteria (such as whether one is a bystander in other people’s police reports) to compile a list of individuals who, it believes, are likely to commit crimes in the future. The PCSO then subjects these individuals—referred to in the Complaint as Targeted Persons— as well as their families to “relentless pursuit, arrest, and prosecution” to, in the words of Sheriff Chris Nocco, “take them out.”

PCSO deputies repeatedly make unannounced visits to the homes of Targeted Persons—who are often minors—during which deputies demand entry to the home or information about a Targeted Person’s comings and goings. While there, PCSO deputies also gather additional information about a Targeted Person’s familial and social networks so that PCSO deputies can identify, catalog, track, and visit those individuals as well. PCSO deputies routinely threaten friends and family members who allegedly do not cooperate with deputies enforcing the Program. And during visits to listed individuals’ or their families’ homes, deputies initiate pretextual code enforcement actions—actions which have no connection to the original purpose of the visit. PCSO routinely ignores requests that these visits stop. Likewise, PCSO deputies typically do not leave when residents ask them to do so. Instead, when individuals object to the unwanted visits, PCSO deputies subdue,arrest, and sometimes imprison Targeted Persons or their family and friends.

Meanwhile, in May 2021, the Pasco County School Board “updated” its data sharing agreement with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office– sort of.

From the May 04, 2021, WFLA.com:

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The Pasco County School Board approved an updated agreement with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office regarding student information that was shared on Tuesday.

“Voluntarily removes School Resource Officers’ (SROs) access to student data, including student grades, attendance, and discipline. Additionally, under the agreement, SROs will no longer have access to the school district’s Early Warning System, which designates which students are considered off-track, on-track, or at-risk.”

Members of the Sheriff’s Office Real Time Crime Center will maintain access as they currently have for use in the narrow instances of school threat assessments and public safety emergencies, such as a missing or abducted child or a threat to a school campus.

However, as stated in the agreement, this access will not include grades. The updated agreement provides for an audit process through which sheriff’s office personnel will create a record of any school district data they access, as well as the reason it was necessary, in line with legislative mandates, according to the joint statement. …

The People Against the Surveillance of Children and Over-policing (PASCO) Coalition sent a letter this week demanding the district stop sharing student information.

The PASCO Coalition issued the following statement today after the changes were approved:

“The PASCO Coalition is extremely disappointed by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office (“Sheriff”) and the Pasco County School Board’s (“District”) announcement of “revisions” to their data-sharing agreement. While these revisions were touted as reforms that were responsive to the “distracting” criticisms the program was receiving, these revisions do not go far enough in limiting the Sheriff’s access to student records. The revisions claim to remove SROs’ access to student data, but maintain access for various other agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office itself. There continues to be a lack of transparency. The Sheriff and the District have again excluded the community, including parents from this process. Our coalition also has outstanding concerns about the way that this predictive policing program has and will continue to impact Pasco County families. These are fully addressed in the open letter we sent to the District today, in advance of the school board meeting. We urge the District and Sheriff to carefully consider and engage with the numerous issues that we have identified in our open letter as they move forward.”

“In today’s school board meeting, the District unanimously voted to approve an undisclosed revised data sharing agreement with the Sheriff that does not significantly change the original one. However, the item was not on the agenda, there was no opportunity for public comment, and, to our knowledge, there still has been no opportunity for the public to review and provide feedback on the revised agreement. The PASCO Coalition obtained a copy of the revised agreement through a public records request to the District, and the revisions are insufficient to protect the rights of children whose information will still be accessible to the Sheriff’s Office.”

“The PASCO Coalition is extremely concerned about the continued lack of transparency, community-driven solutions, and public input around this program. Neither the District nor the Sheriff has addressed what the Sheriff is doing with the 20 years of student records in its possession. Further, there is no process to notify parents and guardians about whether their children’s information was provided to the Sheriff, and if so, how it was used. Given the Sheriff’s and District’s admissions about the unfettered access that was permitted for decades, these concerns must be addressed. In addition, questions remain about the ways in which this program especially targets children of color, children with disabilities, and low-income students for police monitoring and surveillance. Those students and their parents or guardians deserve to have their questions answered by the Sheriff and the District.”

“Furthermore, we have no assurances that the District will permanently prevent similar predictive practices from re-emerging once national attention has abated. This was only a revision to the contract that expires at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Nor is it clear that the current agreement has substantially limited access to federally-protected student records by the Sheriff’s Office as a whole, given vague language in the revised agreement that allows the Board to disclose student data to “other appropriate individuals” at its discretion,  the fact that other staff members of the Sheriff’s Office will still have access to this protected data, and the absence of any stated parameters around how this data may be used or shared within their office.”

“We need comprehensive policy overhauls and systems of accountability for meaningful reform and to prevent this from happening in the future. That process requires community at the table to design long-term solutions and to begin the process of rebuilding trust in the District and Sheriff’s Office.”

A school district agreeing to such an arrangement is ________. (You fill it in. I’m at a loss.)

I’m guessing they haven’t been touched by that list.

_______________________________________________________________

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4 Comments
  1. speduktr permalink

    It boggles the mind that anyone with half a brain thought this “program” was a good idea.

  2. Lulu Cafe permalink

    Were all the targeted kids Black?

  3. Fill in the blank: typical.

    Typical because adminimals don’t have the ability to fundamentally understand what they are doing.

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