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.

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Comments on “Florida Sheriff's Predictive Policing Program Is Protecting Residents From Unkempt Lawns, Missing Mailbox Numbers”

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21 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Here's my nose, take a big bite.

I am dying to hear the justification between long grass and criminal activity. What’s that you say? There isn’t any? So, in the end, the supposition is that The Pasco County Sheriff’s Department thinks that if they can get everyone to move out of Pasco County then they will have a lower crime rate with the added bonus of less to do.

Has anyone mentioned to them that if there are no residents in Pasco County there will be no tax base to fund the sheriff’s department?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Another Kevin (profile) says:

Re:

‘Broken windows’ policing starts from the assumption that anything that makes a neighbourhood unsightly or unpleasant (broken windows, loud music, inoperable cars, long grass, …) makes it a target for crime. Just look at Skid Row, it’s got all those things. From that it presumes that forcing people to clean up the small things will fix the crime problem.

It also is predicated on selective enforcement. The Sheriff isn’t trying to drive all the residents out of Pasco County. Just ones who happen to be black, brown, poor, mentally challenged, or otherwise bear marks of the underclass.

Emphasis on the ‘not lily white’. People who are white enough get a pass on the other aspects.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

‘Broken Windows policing’. Is that where the police break the windows and then arrest you for having broken windows?

They are not doing ‘broken windows policing’ as that would mean that they were actually going after petty crime in order to discourage less petty crime. They are just harassing people, some of whom have criminal histories, but no current criminal activity (that we know of). I am unaware of having long grass being a crime anywhere, though it does violate the covenants of some HOA’s, that is not criminal, it is contractual, and not the business of the police.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I am unaware of having long grass being a crime anywhere, …

For instance, Portland, Oregon; Pinellas County, Fl; Fairfax County, VA

Apparently, there are a lot of jurisdictions that don’t like you to have tall grass. Or disabled vehicles on your own property. Or etc. Now, these are civil infractions, so you probably won’t go to jail over them, but even so.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Now, these are civil infractions, so you probably won’t go to jail over them, but even so."

However, it is certainly within the bounds of possibility to end up dead, once the cops come calling and decide you are such an intimidating specimen of person they start fearing for their lives and feel compelled to empty their clips in your recumbent form for having violated their order of "Freeze! Don’t Move! Get on the floor now!"

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Broken Windows Policing

Broken Windows Policing is supposed to function with assured enforcement, but also with proportional punishment. If you have an unsightly infraction, a meter-maid type officer comes and posts a ticket that is conveniently paid after you fix the problem.

This is to say US communities engage in BWP as well as the USSR engaged in communism. It’s a justification for poor treatment of underclasses by those with power.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Here's my nose, take a big bite.

To be fair, white collar crime causes exponentially more death, injury, damages and lost of property than all the petty crimes combined. The incidents are plentiful and historic, such as Purdue Pharma’s role in the US Opioid Crisis or Enron’s role in the California Energy Crisis of 2000-2001 If our government was really interested in saving lives and reducing damages to people, it would seek to investigate and prevent large scale abuses of power like these.

I am not a sociologist, but I suspect the effects would trickle down, in that a crisis prevented would lead to people who were less desperate and less inclined to engage in petty crime, whether robbery or burglary or even homicide.

(One of the factors that reduced homicide from the 50s to the 2010s was the ability of partners to escape domestic conflicts before they escalated to injurious or lethal violence. When the weaker spouse has her / his own income and can rent a hotel room for a night, or seek refuge in a shelter, they can leave and everyone can cool off.)

In the meantime, our beat officers have long taken the philosophy of pursuing the lowest hanging fruit, harassing civilians and small businesses for petty infractions rather than hunting down violent criminals. Civilians are less likely to be armed or shoot back.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Refreshing honest corruption and sadism

Well, they are not even pretending that they aren’t goons with badges, flat out admitting that the goal is to harass people until the target snaps and either goes legal(which is entirely safe for said goons, not like they will be footing any bills) or moves out of reach.

The program utilizes 30 people and runs residents $2.8 million a year.

I’m not sure if money laundering is quite the right term, but with a staff that small and costs that big I’d say it’s almost a given that those at the top and likely the rest of them to a lesser extent are likely getting some hefty paychecks, all of course ‘justified’ by their constant harassment and threats to show just how ‘busy’ they are. For greedy and sadistic thugs a job like that has got to be pure paradise, raking in the money as they get to threaten and harass anyone around them in order to stroke their egos.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Refreshing honest corruption and sadism

I mean, even assuming that nothing except salary comes out of that budget, $88k is somewhat high but I wouldn’t exactly describe it as "hefty." If we assume everything comes out of that budget, it seems like a fairly reasonable cost basis for 30 people and associated extras (training, equipment/vehicles, insurance, office space).

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Refreshing honest corruption and sadism

Unless I’m missing something the people making use of this program to harass people are already employed by the sheriff’s office, so the $88K would be on top of the pay they are already getting from their official jobs, with the other costs you listed likewise already covered by the main job.

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