January 7, 2019
The Florida Sheriff, the Sheriff’s Son, and the ‘Coward of Broward’

By Paul Sperry, RCI

As Runcie pioneered the most lenient discipline policies in the nation, the administration pumped millions of dollars in education grants into his district. More than 50 other large school districts adopted similar programs as the administration opened race-bias investigations and threatened funding cuts for those who failed to comply with the lower disciplinary standards.

Last month, the Trump administration revoked the Obama policy, formalized in a January 2014 guidance letter to all public school districts, arguing it has led to increased violence in schools.

The Florida state safety commission’s draft report also revealed that the Broward district has been systematically underreporting crimes committed on campus since revising its  discipline policies, helping it appear that the PROMISE program and its required “restorative justice” counseling  sessions were  working to reduce the number of students who reoffend and control overall crime on campus.

Officials at Stoneman Douglas, for example, failed to report  dozens of instances of violence, bullying, theft, robbery and trespassing in the  2016-2017 school year, making the school look much safer than it was prior to the shooting.

New Renaissance  Middle School in Miramar, Fla., reported no cases of bullying in 2015-2016, even though coed Jayla Cofer successfully sued Broward schools in 2016 after she was sent to the emergency room by a gang of violent girls, none of whom was arrested. Her attackers were d diverted to the PROMISE program, where they received counseling.

Arreaza charged in a complaint filed Dec. 21 in Broward County court that school officials have pressured teachers and staff not to  report crimes committed by students like Cruz.

In an interview with RealClearInvestigations(RCI), he said they also routinely pressured Peterson and other school resource officers to “downgrade” serious  crimes, including violent felonies.

Just weeks before the Stoneman Douglas massacre, for example, a sophomore band member at the high school was violently  attacked by another student, Arreaza said. The assailant broke his nose, but he wasn’t arrested for the assault.

Instead, school  officials assigned him to a diversionary program where he received counseling. “The crime was actually an aggravated assault, which is a felony, but it was reduced to a misdemeanor,” said Arreaza, who  represents the victim. When the boy’s parents complained, “Deputy Peterson told the parents he isn’t allowed to arrest  anyone.”

Other sources confirmed that arrests are discouraged across the board by the administration. One longtime deputy assigned to Broward schools, who insisted on anonymity, said that a top official in the superintendent’s office “asked us not to arrest students for felonies in addition to misdemeanors,” even though the 2013 agreement explicitly emphasized that police had final discretion and that felonies would not qualify under the no-arrest plan.

The sheriff even mirrored the no-arrest policy at the county jail.

In a related  program, Israel agreed to back off arrests of students who commit various crimes outside of schools, offering them civil citations and the same “restorative justice” counseling in lieu of incarceration, even for repeat offenders. Restorative justice is a controversial alternative punishment in which delinquents gather in “healing circles” with counselors – and sometimes even the victims of their crime – and  discuss their feelings and the “root causes” of their anger and actions.

Within two years of adopting the discipline reforms, Broward’s juvenile recidivism rate surged higher than the Florida state average.  The negative trends continued through 2017, the most recent juvenile  crime data show. Cruz wasn’t the only dangerous threat who avoided referral to the juvenile justice system.

The district also previously diverted other boys, who brought guns to school and threatened to go on shooting rampages, from the criminal justice system and into alternative programs. In October 2016,  for instance, a would-be teen shooter at Coral  Springs High School was sent to counseling and was not charged with a  crime. The safety commission found that Broward public schools average two threat assessments per day. In just the first half of 2018, the district had  completed approximately 390 behavioral threat assessments.

Cruz, 19, faces the death penalty if convicted of 17 counts of murder in the Valentine’s Day massacre.

This investigative expose’ originally appeared in RealClearInvestigations, which is supported by the RealClearFoundation.

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