Audit finds DCPS complying with state’s school-based crime reporting following scathing report

School board members said they still have questions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School spurred the state to impose sweeping new requirements on how the state’s school districts track and report crimes on campuses.

The following year, the state put together a grand jury to make sure that all those new rules were being followed.

News4JAX reported last summer when that a grand jury found that Duval County Public Schools was significantly under-reporting crimes.

Board members heard on Tuesday from a third-party firm that’s been reviewing how the district responded after that scathing report.

The district hired an outside firm, Sniffen & Spellman, to look over whether the district is in full compliance now, what systems they can adopt to make sure they stay in compliance moving forward and how the district got into this mess in the first place.

READ: Interim report from Sniffen & Spellman

In Tuesday’s interim report, the firm only answered the first two questions.

After the devastating mass shooting in Parkland state lawmakers passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act which, among other things, required school districts to keep close track and report crimes that happen on their campuses to the state’s newly-created “Office of Safe Schools.”

But, after a statewide grand jury looked into which districts were following the new provisions, it released a scathing report on Duval County’s district saying it had misidentified or failed to report more than 500 alleged crimes between 2016 and 2020.

Investigators had looked through more than 2,600 incident reports and found that 520 of them should have been labeled as an “offense” including 150 instances of battery on a law enforcement officer, 94 instances of child abuse, 157 “lewd acts” and many others.

Since the grand jury report, DCPS police chief Micheal Edwards resigned and the district implemented sweeping changes to how it trains staff to recognize and report crimes more consistently throughout the district.

A third-party firm was also hired to scrutinize the district’s actions and in a presentation Tuesday, the firm concluded that DCPS has and is working diligently to be in full compliance with the state’s school-based crime reporting.

The firm also recommended that the district develop a system of ongoing compliance checks to make sure the reporting doesn’t slip in the future.

DCPS Police Chief Greg Burton said he has established strong working relationships with other area law enforcement agencies including the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s great. It’s a great, great relationship. Greg Burton, retired chief from Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and we’ve had several discussions already,” Sheriff T.K. Waters said.

Some board members said they still wanted to know how the district underreported crimes in the first place but the firm said that information will be in its final report. Tuesday’s report was only an interim update.

The board originally green-lit a $50,000 budget for the firm to do its work. To date, it’s used about $11,000 of that.

It’s unclear when the final report will be released, which could provide some answers the board and the public have been demanding.

There’s one area that the state still believes that DCPS is underreporting though, and that’s gang-related activity.

Chief Burton and Superintendent Diana Greene have said that they’re reporting to the best of their ability and that it’s a complicated thing to track because, among other issues, gang members are serially absent from school and therefore, gang-related activity infrequently happens on campuses.