Florida Sheriff's Predictive Policing Program Is Protecting Residents From Unkempt Lawns, Missing Mailbox Numbers
from the if-you-can't-the-time-in-perpetuity,-don't-commit-the-crime-even-once dept
Defenders of “predictive policing” claim it’s a way to work smarter, not harder. Just round up a bunch of data submitted by cops engaged in biased policing and allow the algorithm to work its magic. The end result isn’t smarter policing. It’s just more of the same policing we’ve seen for years that disproportionately targets minorities and those in lower income brackets.
Supposedly, this will allow officers to prevent more criminal activity. The dirty data sends cops into neighborhoods to target everyone who lives there, just because they have the misfortune of living in an area where crime is prevalent. If the software was any “smarter,” it would just send cops to prisons where criminal activity is the highest.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Department thinks it’s going to drive crime down by engaging in predictive policing. But no one’s crippling massive criminal organizations or liberating oppressed communities from the criminal activity that plagues their everyday lives. Instead of smart policing that maximizes limited resources, Pasco County residents are getting this instead:
First the Sheriff’s Office generates lists of people it considers likely to break the law, based on arrest histories, unspecified intelligence and arbitrary decisions by police analysts.
Then it sends deputies to find and interrogate anyone whose name appears, often without probable cause, a search warrant or evidence of a specific crime.
They swarm homes in the middle of the night, waking families and embarrassing people in front of their neighbors. They write tickets for missing mailbox numbers and overgrown grass, saddling residents with court dates and fines. They come again and again, making arrests for any reason they can.
One former deputy described the directive like this: “Make their lives miserable until they move or sue.”
Those are the options given to residents. The Sheriff wants residents to fund their own harassment. If they don’t like being hassled by officers, move or sue. Both are costly. Both disrupt people’s lives. And it’s happening because people live in the “wrong” areas or have committed criminal acts in the past, the latter of which law enforcement isn’t willing to forgive or forget long after these residents have repaid their debt to society.
In one case, a 15-year-old boy on probation (and overseen by a probation officer) for stealing motorized bikes was “visited” by deputies 21 times in six months. They went to his mother’s employer, his friend’s house, and the gym he frequented. Past mistakes are the impetus for months or years of hassling by deputies, thanks to the Sheriff’s software.
Since September 2015, the Sheriff’s Office has sent deputies on checks like those more than 12,500 times, dispatch logs show.
The Sheriff’s Office says this is a smarter way to fight crime. When deputies fine someone $2,500 for having chickens in their yard or arrest a father because a 17-year-old was spotted smoking cigarettes on his property, it’s just better police work all around. The Sheriff’s Office has become the county’s unofficial Homeowner’s Assocation, hassling residents for uncut grass, missing mailbox numbers, and having unpopular pets on the premises. But the Pasco County Sheriff thinks this is a good thing and has the stats to back it up.
The Sheriff’s Office said its program was designed to reduce bias in policing by using objective data. And it provided statistics showing a decline in burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts since the program began in 2011.
Or does it?
But Pasco’s drop in property crimes was similar to the decline in the seven-largest nearby police jurisdictions. Over the same time period, violent crime increased only in Pasco.
All the data generated by the Office’s 12,500 hasslings goes back into the system, laying the foundation for the next 12,500 useless insertions of law enforcement into people’s lives.
The program utilizes 30 people and runs residents $2.8 million a year. It’s headed by a former senior counterterrorism expert. The second-in-command is a former Army intelligence officer. But for all the supposed expertise, it’s only country residents being terrorized.
The system assigns points to people to see if they can make the top 100 “offenders” list, which is where the Office focuses its efforts. Points are given to people if they’re accused of any criminal act, even if the charges are dropped or they’re only considered a suspect. Their scores are enhanced if they appear in police reports, even as a witness or a victim.
Body camera recordings and documents show deputies engaged in “intelligence-led” policing threatening people with arrests and citations if they won’t agree to let officers in their homes. They also show efforts targeting teens and people with developmental disabilities, including one “target” who had twice been ruled incompetent to stand trial. Former deputies and officers say not every interaction was recorded or logged. In some cases, deputies would park multiple cars outside of targets’ homes for hours at a time or make up to six visits a day to the same residence.
The goal is harassment. And it works. Residents feel harassed. Interactions that began cordially have steadily become more confrontational. This works to the Sheriff’s advantage. Provoking anger makes it easier to find something to charge residents with, given the number of statutes that enable “contempt of cop” charges. At least one frequent target moved their family out of the county
All of this targeted harassment hasn’t made county residents any safer. They’d enjoy the same reduction in property crime in any other nearby county without having to deal with this massive downside. And, as the stats show, violent crime is lower in nearby counties not subjecting residents to mafioso tactics under the guise of “intelligence-led policing.” All the program has really shown is that the Sheriff’s Office has an excess of personnel and resources.