Florida Sheriff's 'Intelligence-Led Policing' Effort Is Nothing More Than A Targeted Harassment Program
from the garbage-in-and-out-comes-the-garbage-to-bang-on-your-door dept
The Pasco County (FL) Sheriff’s Office has been using a quasi-“pre-crime” program for years, supposedly as part of its overall “public safety” efforts. But it hasn’t done much more than give officers an excuse to hassle people. It may publicly claim it’s a smarter form of law enforcement that makes better use of limited resources to target problem areas and people. But it isn’t. And the Sheriff’s Office knows it.
In reality, it’s about hassling people until they “sue or move.” That’s what the Office says about the program behind closed doors. People the software says are more inclined to commit crimes are visited by deputies several times a month. In addition to angling for warrantless searches of people’s homes, deputies issue citations for bullshit like uncut lawns or missing mailbox numbers.
The program has taken up residence in local schools. In violation of federal law, the Pasco County Sheriff has been collecting information about students, dumping it into a spreadsheet, and declaring minors to be criminals-in-the-making. Being declared a pre-criminal then subjects entire families to the same sort of harassment detailed above, with the supposed predicate being things like low grades, missed school days, and being a victim or witness of domestic violence.
This program is now under investigation by the US Department of Education. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is also being sued over the program, which is one of the signs of the program’s success according to the Office’s own statements (“move or sue”).
Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar of NBC News spent some time with one of the plaintiffs, Robert Jones. Jones and his family moved to Gulf Harbors, Florida, hoping to give his son a clean break from some previous delinquency and a new start in a new school. But that plan was interrupted by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
Five months after Robert Jones, a 44-year-old aerospace process auditor, moved to what he described as the “really nice” neighborhood of Gulf Harbors in Pasco County, Florida, with his wife and four kids, “seven or eight” police cars showed up at his door.
Officers said they had heard about his then-16-year-old son Bobby’s school delinquency from colleagues in Pinellas County, where the family previously lived, and wanted to make sure he understood that the Pasco Sheriff’s Office did things a little differently, Jones recalled.
Apparently, news traveled fast. And these deputies moved faster. Shortly after engaging Jones in conversation, deputies were entering his son’s room, digging through his belongings. They found a few empty baggies which tested positive for marijuana. They detained Jones’ son for three weeks before the judge dumped the case due to there being a lack of a “measurable amount” of marijuana.
At that point, his son had only been at his new school for a week before his education was interrupted by Pasco County’s “pre-crime” program. And that was only the beginning. The harassment continued.
After Bobby was released, a monthslong ordeal followed, which Jones described as a “horror story” of police showing up at the family home, sometimes multiple times a day or in the middle of the night, to inquire about Bobby or ask to enter the home. Any time there was a crime in the neighborhood, such as a burglary, Bobby was a suspect. On some occasions, described in a lawsuit filed in March by Jones and others targeted bythe Pasco Sheriff’s Office, as many as 18 officers would show up at the home, “banging on windows and yelling at his young daughters while they were hiding under the bed.”
Even Jones himself wasn’t immune. Deputies said the Office was interested in his son. But Jones was arrested five times by deputies, who managed to secure zero convictions. His house was searched multiple times and his phones and computers were seized. He was cited multiple times for uncut grass, missing mailbox numbers, and for having a jet ski parked in his driveway. Jones ultimately decided to leave town.
Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office has been playing defense. It claims it violated no laws but also drastically modified its information sharing agreement with Pasco County schools to align it with federal privacy laws. And it claims the months of harassment of the Jones family had nothing to do with “pre-crime” or “predictive policing.” But the Office is being obtuse, attempting to allow strict definitions of certain words to exonerate it.
It said the Pasco Sheriff’s Office used historical data to “work with those who have shown a consistent pattern of offending to attempt to break the cycle of recidivism…”
But that’s what predictive policing is: projections based on historical data — data that’s almost always tainted by years of biased policing. And that’s not the end of the Office’s seeming dishonesty. Deputies showed up at Jones’ door within six months of him moving there, claiming they’d heard about his son’s previous legal troubles from another Sheriff’s Office. In its statements to NBC News, it claims it did not start targeting Jones and his son until months after the nearly-daily harassment had begun.
[The Sheriff’s Office] said Bobby was not added to its “prolific offender program,” which results in random visits from deputies, until 2017 — long after the period of harassment alleged by Jones.
And it also blamed the people it has harassed for the harassment, claiming everyone deputies have “interacted” with as the result of this “historical data” project have “lengthy criminal histories.” But past results are not always indicative of future behavior, no matter what the Pasco County Sheriff’s “NOT A PRE-CRIME PROGRAM” program says. And hassling people over grass and mailbox numbers isn’t doing anything to prevent future criminal activity.
This isn’t limited to Pasco County. Schools in other parts of the nation are trying the same thing. And other predictive policing programs are expanding to cover juveniles who are still in school. The NBC News report says similar programs have been tried in Minnesota, Tennessee, and Virginia. But they don’t seem to be doing anything more than subjecting minors to the same sort of harassment predictive policing programs have subjected adults to for years. And for all the money spent, the results are underwhelming.
[T]his program didn’t have great results, according to Capt. John Sherwin, a 20-year veteran of the Rochester Police Department. The reality was that sometimes “predictions” produced by the IBM system were things that veteran officers had already figured out. For example, Sherwin said, juveniles who have a probation violation are slightly more likely to commit a violent felony offense as an adult than the general population.
There’s nothing new about sending more officers to areas where criminal activity is more common. This idea is as old as policing itself. That there’s now millions of dollars and a Batman-esque wall of screens involved doesn’t really make “intelligence-led policing” any smarter than the analog version officers have been using for years. What it has done is placed more importance on petty bullshit — the sort of harassment that apparently justifies the man hours wasted trying to intimidate “targets” into consenting to searches and issuing tickets for shaggy-looking lawns. And the only thing the Pasco County Sheriff has added to this dubious equation is a bunch of schoolkids who will get to learn extra-early how much power — and how little accountability — their local law enforcement officers have.