Controversial new policy in battery on school employee investigations

Clark Fouraker investigates. 6/30/2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—The First Coast News Investigators obtained a copy of a controversial new policy in the Duval County Schools Police Department that some officers said hinders their ability to do their job.

"I've never, never, in my almost 29 years of being a police officer, seen anything like this, like what's occurring at the Duval County School Board," said Steve Zona, president of Jacksonville's Fraternal Order of Police.

The memo was sent to all school police personnel at the beginning of 2016 addressing battery on a school employee.

The policy says "if the victim does not wish to prosecute, the investigation will be suspended." Even if the victim wants to prosecute it says, "no arrest will be made at the time of the initial investigation."

"It's taking the authority and the power away from the officer that's out there to arrest or not arrest," said First Coast News Crime Analyst Mark Baughman.

He said that's not how it works at other police departments like the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.  Sworn officers are allowed to arrest someone if they have probable cause, an important standard experts say to make sure a suspect doesn't commit additional crimes.

"My concern is that since battery on a school employee is a felony in the state of Florida, if you're directing officers to not follow up on that, I have some concerns,” said attorney Tad Delegal.

Delegal is a former juvenile prosecutor and represented the Fraternal Order of Police.  He's concerned the policy could prohibit tracking problem students.

"These officers need to have the discretion to arrest even if these teachers say no I'm okay,” Delegal said.

School District Police Chief Michael Edwards was not available to interview on the policy.

Duval Schools sent a statement that said:

Duval County School Police is not restricting the ability of an officer to make an arrest when there is probable cause. However, to ensure the investigative review is fair and thorough, procedural adjustments have been implemented.

The district said now they pass cases involving battery on a school officer to a detective unit.

The policy memo said that detectives, "will ensure all investigative leads have been exhausted before an arrest is made."

Duval Teachers United, the union for educators in Duval County, said they are aware of the policy. The group’s executive director was traveling Thursday and said she’d answer our questions when she returns.

“I can't think of any other reason to write a report like that than to mask the true crime rate in schools,” Zona said. "I don't think I've gone on record this openly talking about stuff, but everything that I'm hearing and I think that you've heard in your research is enough is enough. I mean something needs to be done."

 


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