By Tim Cushing
Predictive policing is coming for your children. That’s what’s happening in Florida, where the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has taken an inappropriate interest in minors. It all begins with some questionable access to sensitive records and ends with the Sheriff deciding some students are destined for a life of crime. (h/t WarOnPrivacy)
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 Pasco County pre-crime list makes about as much sense as any gang database/terrorist watchlist in the country. Pretty much anything can get a student labelled a problem child whose future criminal activity is a presumed destiny. Gang databases include people who live where gangs are operating and whose children go to the same schools gang members attend.
The same guilt-by-association applies here, but more absurdly. According to the Sheriff’s pre-crime program, kids who have witnessed or been the victim of domestic abuse will probably become criminals. So will those who are struggling academically, have missed classes, or have been sent to the office for discipline.
This seems like the sort of thing better handled by school counselors, social workers, and others not inclined to view students as criminals. But it’s in the hands of the Sheriff’s office, along with sensitive information about students not normally considered to be under law enforcement’s purview.
The Pasco County Sheriff claims this is all about helping kids — not predetermining their destiny.
In a series of written statements, the Sheriff’s Office said the list is used only to help the deputies assigned to middle and high schools offer “mentorship” and “resources” to students.
Asked for specifics, it pointed to one program where school resource officers take children fishing and another where they give clothes to kids in need.
The documents obtained by TampaBay.com say something else. The Office’s manual [PDF], which provides guidance for the Sheriff’s [what fresh dystopian hell is] “juvenile intelligence analysts,” places far more emphasis on determining who should be placed on lifelong surveillance due to their alleged criminal tendencies than finding help for at-risk students.
The list itself is the Sheriff’s secret. Parents aren’t notified when their kids are put on the “pre-criminal” list. Some school administrators seem largely unaware their schools’ data is being used to profile minors. The Sheriff’s Office, however, claims it has been the recipient of student info/data for two decades. Its move to put minors on the same level as adults is perhaps to be expected, given the lack of oversight or awareness by anyone else involved.
The list of school kids isn’t the agency’s only effort to identify and target people it considers likely to commit crimes. In September, a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that the department’s intelligence arm also uses people’s criminal histories and social networks to predict if they will break the law.
This is only going to cause more pain for Pasco County residents. As was revealed earlier by another investigation, the Pasco County Sheriff’s other predictive policing program has led to months of harassment, with supposed “at-risk” residents being cited for un-mowed lawns, missing mailbox numbers, minors smoking on their property, and having chickens in their yard. When fines and fees aren’t paid, deputies start arresting people. Anyone flagged by the system can expect to be visited several times a month by deputies who apparently have way too much time on their hands.
The same harassment is in store for students the Pasco County Sheriff deems “at risk.” And it doesn’t take much to get on the list. According to the program’s documents, getting 1 “D” in a semester will flag a student as “at risk.” So will 3-4 absences in a quarter. Being a victim of a “personal crime” is also an at-risk factor.
And so it goes. The data schools are sharing with law enforcement is fed into a spreadsheet that prejudges kids, setting them up for more interactions with law enforcement… which sets them up for even more marks in the at risk column. Like seemingly everything else law enforcement touches, it disproportionately affects certain people.
In Pasco County, Black students and students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended or referred to law enforcement, according to federal data.
It would be nice to believe this garbage in/garbage out pre-criming ends when a student graduates high school. But there’s no reason to believe the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t feed info on graduates into its other pre-crime system, ensuring deputies spend a considerable amount of time hassling people they suspect might commit a crime at some undetermined point in the future. And until there’s any real crime to handle, they can continue nickel-and-diming Pasco County residents — some of who will have become accustomed to this bullshit long before they become legal adults.