Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Many Florida districts conceal and misstate crime statistics, investigation says

Dec. 11, 2018
Probe by The South Florida Sun-Sentinel says many school districts are defying state law by failing to accurately disclose how much crime is occurring on campuses.

Florida’s school districts, in defiance of state laws, are failing to disclose countless crimes that take place on campus, and are giving parents the false impression that children are safer than they are.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that many serious offenses — and even minor ones — are never reported to the state as required. Many schools report no incidents at all.

The state largely takes the districts at their word, and state law provides no penalties for administrators who allow the lies to continue.

For instance, no one told the state after a registered sex offender trespassed at the Deane Bozeman School in Panama City in 2016. Or that a woman was charged in 2014 with trying to choke and kidnap a student at Eccleston Elementary in Orlando. Or that a drunk Tampa Bay man brought a Glock pistol to a Seminole High football game in 2015 and threatened to shoot a teacher.

Even murder has been ignored. A student at Coral Gables Senior High got a 40-year prison sentence for a fatal stabbing in 2009, a case that attracted national attention, but the Miami-Dade County school district never reported it to the state.

The Sun Sentinel first raised concerns about false crime reports after the February shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The Parkland school is rated as one of the state’s safest, but school officials had failed to record more than two dozen cases of trespassing, burglary and physical attacks over the previous three years. The district reported the offenses to sheriff’s deputies, but they were omitted from reports filed with the state.

The newspaper's investigation found that numerous school districts have been concealing similar crimes.

Crimes such as teachers sexually abusing students have been withheld simply because they weren’t committed by students, an omission that violates state law and masks problems.

On average, more than 600 schools — one in five — fail to report to the state each year, suggesting that nothing whatsoever went wrong there.

Many schools, seeking to protect their reputations, continue to file false information even after the state warns them against it.

Some members of a commission investigating the Parkland shooting believe failure to report crime is one reason that Stoneman Douglas was unprepared for the shooting attack. Concealing instances of crime could open the door to another tragedy if problems go ignored, they say.

“If you're having a problem at a school, it doesn't get solved by painting a rosy picture and saying that it’s something other than what it is,” says Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission. “In fact, it just makes the problem worse. It exacerbates it because you're not solving it.”

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