In a move that combines all the cruelty of Dickensian authority figures with all the scary science of Philip K. Dick, the Pasco County, Florida Sherriff’s Department has begun using data on children who are struggling academically and have been abused, not to help those vulnerable children, but to prepare to arrest them by preemptively labeling 420 kids potential future criminals.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Sherriff’s Office made its list using “rosters for most middle and high schools in the county with records so sensitive, they’re protected by state and federal law.” The data includes grades, school days missed, discipline referrals, and, most horrifically, whether or not the students have witnessed or experienced household violence. Based on any one of these factors, children are then flagged in the system without parent or guardians’ knowledge as potential criminals, according to an internal intelligence manual reportedly acquired by the Times.
The school superintendent, Kurt Browning, and two principals told the Times that they were unaware of any such list. Meanwhile, the Sherriff’s Office claimed in multiple statements that though a juvenile intelligence analyst and school resource officers do have access to the list, it is used not just for bargain-basement Minority Report shit but also for “mentorship” and offering “resources” to these students. However, the 82-page manual used by authorities in conjunction with data application only mentions predicting criminality in the five separate places it covers student data.
Browning did seem a bit nonplussed by the information, though, telling the Times essentially, that he assumed putting cops in school would lead to the policing of children:
“We have an agreement with the Sheriff’s Office,” the superintendent said. “The agreement requires them to use (the data) for official law enforcement purposes. I have to assume that’s exactly what they are using it for.”
The datasets are used to score children in 16 different categories, then assign labels of “on track, at risk, off track, or critical.” Actions as small as a D on a report card or missing three days in a quarter can get a student a label of “at risk” as well as markers like being abused, neglected, or having a parent go to jail. Experts also say that race and disability status likely play a factor, especially since “Black students and students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended or referred to law enforcement” in Pasco County. Meanwhile, even the experts cited in the manual, which is required reading for school resource officers, say links between childhood trauma and adult criminal behavior are “extremely weak.”
Though the Sherriff’s Department insists it accessed the data “lawfully,” it has begun drafting a new policy about offering mentorship or whatever, conveniently just after the Times started asking questions. Yet predictions based on data around cops being dickheads would suggest that authorities are most likely to continue using this information in order to pinpoint the most vulnerable members of society and then harass those people until they find some minuscule infraction that can be brutally punished with impunity until someone fucking says they can’t do that anymore.