The most recent revision to Florida’s civil citation law increased the number of times a child could receive a civil citation rather than an arrest for a misdemeanor offense from one infraction to three. Since then, the debate has focused on whether making juvenile civil citations mandatory for eligible offenses would help or hurt juvenile justice.
The challenges with removing officer discretion unilaterally are many. Law enforcement is presented with a wide range of scenarios for offenses falling under the same category.
The Children’s Campaign has consistently agreed with many other organizations about the following:
- The civil citation program statewide is growing by healthy percentages annually. Build on its strengths using reliable metrics.
- Address sluggish utilization by making civil citation the presumptive norm and have officers justify arrests in writing and gain supervisory approval. This will push up utilization rates without removing officer discretion.
- For children who are arrested, a clear path to expunction is needed to clear their records to avoid a lifetime of unfair hurdles.
With this historical framework in mind, we reviewed the 2017 Stepping Up: Florida’s Top Juvenile Civil Citation Efforts™ report released in October by the Caruthers Institute. It is perplexing at best and paints an unfair opinionated picture at its worst. More concerning, however, is it labels many as failures when they appear in fact to be allies of civil citation.
On the fourth page of the 2017 report, the Caruthers Institute states it “thinks” Florida is a “national model in prearrest diversion.” Yet, on page 13, the Institute assigns Florida an “F” grade for its statewide civil citation utilization rate. To us, it seems incredulous for a reputable “think tank” to assign the state the lowest letter grade possible and then call it a national model in the same breath.
The new grading scale is a significant departure from the 2015 and 2016 Stepping Up reports. This new metric, if it is to believed, has Florida falling from being a national leader in two previous reports (disclosure: The Children’s Campaign supported these reports) to being a failure in 2017 – all while increasing the statewide utilization rate 10 percentage points up to 53%.
Keep in mind that Florida’s civil citation utilization rate in the 2016 Stepping Up report was 43% and the Caruthers Institute named Florida a national leader.
The 2016 report also recommended a 25% increase for the following year.
If you do the math, the sum of 43% plus 25% of 43% equals 53.25%, or a gain of 10.25 percentage points. This is almost the exact gain that Florida achieved in the 2017 report. Despite this, the Caruthers Institute gives Florida an “F” rating. Since Florida achieved virtually 100% of the goal set for civil citation utilization, wouldn’t that qualify the state for an “A” rating?
Even if the 25% increase called for by Caruthers in the 2016 Stepping Up report meant a full 25 percentage points, which is giving it a significant benefit of the doubt because that it is not what the report said, Florida’s 2017 civil citation rate would still qualify for a letter grade of B (minus), not an F.
This faulty methodology was also used in assigning grades to individual counties. The Children’s Campaign questions those as well.
As reported by The Children’s Campaign previously, nine Florida counties have juvenile civil citation rates well above the statewide average: Dade (96%); Monroe (93%); Pinellas (92%); St. Johns (82%); Lafayette (75%); Alachua (74%); Manatee (72%); Palm Beach (70%); and Collier (70%).*
Just as importantly, nearly one-third of Florida counties showed gains of at least the statewide increase of 10%. Some were quite a bit more.
Our analysis using Caruthers’ own recommended achievement levels drops the report’s imposed “failure rate of 75%” significantly. Likewise, there would be as many counties earning A’s and B’s as there are F’s and nonparticipants combined.
The 2017 Stepping Up report also recommends that if the Florida Legislature “is not inclined to increase civil citations with the ‘stick’ of a mandate, it should at least provide the ‘carrot’ of funding to any county, school district, law enforcement agency” that wants to make civil citations the presumptive norm.
This seemingly is a backhanded gesture to coerce political action that doesn’t align with the report’s other recommendations. And with the report’s changing metric and recommendations that don’t necessarily align from year-to-year, there is a very real possibility that the resulting confusion will alter the tone and quality of public policy conversations. Progress achieved with law enforcement over prior years could be lost.
The Children’s Campaign understands the passion to make things better for kids and the moral responsibility to not harm their futures with needless arrests. However, when opinion contradicts facts, goal posts of achievement are moved from year to year and allies become failures overnight, it’s time to rethink what is being said and how it is being said.
Giving Florida an “F” rating and failing three quarters of Florida counties made a few headlines. But were they the right headlines? We think not.
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This Top Story is brought to you by Roy Miller, Karen Bonsignori and Tiffany McGlinchey