JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Days after a scathing grand jury report found the Duval County Public Schools police force underreported crimes to the state, the director of the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Safe Schools sent a concerned letter to DCPS superintendent Dr. Diana Greene.
The letter from Director Tim Hay said “we have reason to believe that some of the policies and actions the grand jury found are ongoing and require immediate action. This includes, but is not limited to: School officials violated – and continue to violate – state law by systematically underreporting incidents of criminal activity to the Florida Department of Education.”
The report that was unsealed last month found that between 2016 and 2020, more than 500 alleged crimes were not reported correctly.
Investigators had combed through more than 2,600 “incident” reports. The jury said more than 520 of them should have been labeled “offense” reports and filed with state law enforcement. They included 150 instances of battery on a school employee, 94 instances of child abuse,157 lewd acts and many others.
The grand jury report found District Police Chief Micheal Edwards told officers not to file certain reports on crimes. The grand jury called Edwards’ actions “overt fraud.” He resigned last year, and the district said the procedures in question have been changed.
But Hay said his office would be arranging an in-person meeting with DCPS to investigate potential ongoing concerns, including “systemically underreporting incidents of criminal activity to the Florida Department of Education,” failing to report over 2,000 incidents due to a “technical glitch,” and having written policies in place that brief passing conversations with school police could count as reporting crimes to law enforcement.
The grand jury found that criminal incidents were written up as information reports, not offense reports, which means the information was not submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement which tracks crime in schools.
But according to DCPS, that practice has now been changed, and police notification is now required.
Here are some of the other changes that DCPS told the school board it has made:
- District reformatted Student Code of Conduct to more clearly identify offenses requiring police notification
- Battery on a school employee incidents now investigated and written as offense reports
- Florida Department of Education trained principals and conducted an audit on reporting procedures
Greene responded to Hay’s letter, saying she welcomed an in-person visit to “continue our ongoing collaboration in this area.”
A spokesperson for the district said “the grand jury report correctly states that we self-reported to the state when we discovered the errors in our 2018 SESIR reporting data. It should be clear to families and the community that we:
- Self-reported the errors prior to the grand jury investigation.
- Corrected both the errors and our procedures.
- Requested that the FLDOE Office of Safe Schools review our policies and procedures to ensure compliance with state law. That joint review was conducted earlier this year.”
Greene made reference to that review in her response to Hay’s letter: “We value and appreciate the very reaffirming feedback your staff provided during their May 19, 2022 visit.”
She said she is hoping Hay’s office will provide formal feedback from that visit, “so that my team and Board can determine if additional actions are needed.”
Edwards resigned last year, just a month after the grand jury findings exposed the underreporting of crimes. John Hardin, a former school police officer who worked under Edwards, spoke with News4JAX, calling it a culture of “looking the other way.” Hardin says it negatively impacted the Duval Schools police force.
“It really hurt morale, that was a big thing,” Hardin said. “Because you had a lot of very experienced officers, a lot of the officers that work there, retired JSO, retired from other agencies and are well aware how to be, you know, competent law enforcement officers. And kind of everything that they do, their training experience over the years, really is being turned upside down on a daily basis.
“My understanding of it is they wanted to keep the numbers down,” he added. “So that it didn’t show that we were out arresting the students. I think it painted an appearance of the schools being much safer than they really were.”
Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach counties also received letters from Safe Schools. It remains unclear how the Department of Education plans to proceed on their investigation of the Duval County School District.