Charlotte schools refused to provide numbers, details on crime reported on campus
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System has refused a WBTV request for information that would shed light on how often police are responding to calls at local schools.
In late October, On Your Side Investigates requested all police reports filed by its police officers during the 2014-2015 school year.
CMS is one of just three local school districts in North Carolina to maintain its own law enforcement agency. Moore County Schools and Cherokee County Schools also operate their own police departments.
All three agencies are authorized by the North Carolina General Assembly and employ sworn law enforcement officers who have the same powers of arrests and must meet the same accreditation standards as other police officers.
The school district police departments must also abide by the same public records laws governing what information about reports of crimes and arrests must be made public.
A week after our request, a CMS spokeswoman responded to say that the school system would not provide any reports from the previous school year.
"All police reports filed during the 2014-2015 school year are filed with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department or other law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the criminal matter," spokeswoman Renee McCoy said in an email. "CMS PD does not maintain copies of police reports filed with the outside law enforcement agency."
The North Carolina Public Records Act requires police agencies to make certain information about reports of crimes and arrests public, explained Jonathan Jones, an attorney and executive director of the North Carolina Sunshine Center, which is housed at Elon University and advocates for access to government records.
"That's one of the things that often gets muddy here, is that if we have sworn law enforcement and a crime has been reported to them, then they are obliged to disclose under the North Carolina public records law the nature of the crime, the date/time it occurred, if an arrest was made, who was arrested, their age, their address, all these other things," Jones explained.
The wording of the Public Records Act requires law enforcement agencies to make that information public whether or not they are the custodians of the record that contains that information.
Despite that, CMS has not provide any information of crimes that took place at its schools, saying that what information it does have is protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
"Any law enforcement records maintained by a school or other component of CMS for disciplinary purposes are confidential student records and not subject to disclosure," McCoy said in her email denying WBTV's request for records.
But Jones explained FERPA does not apply to police records. The law protects student's education and disciplinary records but specifically excludes records created for a law enforcement purpose.
"Some administrators believe that FERPA will exempt the law enforcement records," Jones said. "That's simply not the case but we see it come up again, and again, and again."
Information provided by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department shows police respond to thousands of calls for service at CMS schools each year.
MORE INFORMATION: CMPD calls for service for 2014-2015 school year
Crime data provided by CMPD shows its officers and CMS PD officers responded to 3,176 calls for service at schools within its jurisdiction. That number does not include schools outside of CMPD's jurisdiction, though.
For example, when a student at Rocky River High School in Mint Hill was robbed at gunpoint after school in a hallway recently, Mint Hill Police, not CMPD, responded to that call.
Through an attorney, WBTV renewed its request for a list of all crimes reported to CMS PD last week.
Late Thursday afternoon, just hours before press time, McCoy responded to the letter sent by WBTV's attorney and said the school would provide the requested crime information.
The school system had yet to provide any information, however, by press time.
Jones, the open records advocate, said school administrators are withholding critical information that parents and students have a right to know.
"Students need to be aware of crime that occurs on their campus. Parents of children who are under 18 need to be aware of crime that is occurring on their campus," Jones said. "School systems should not be able to sweep under the rug serious crime by claiming this blanket FERPA protection."
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