Florida Sheriff's Office Sued For Using 'Predictive Policing' Program To Harass Residents

from the better-at-creating-litigants-than-fighting-crime dept

The Pasco County (FL) Sheriff's Office is being sued over its targeted harassment program -- one it likes to call "predictive policing."

Predictive policing is pretty much garbage everywhere, since it relies on stats generated by biased policing to generate even more biased policing. In Pasco County, however, it's a plague willingly inflicted on residents by a sheriff (Chris Nocco) who has apparently described the ultimate goal of the program as "making [people] miserable until they move or sue."

Well, Pasco County's getting one of these outcomes, after years of hassling residents who happen to find themselves labelled as criminals or possible criminals by the Sheriff's faulty software. Under the guise of "fighting crime," Sheriff's deputies make multiple visits to residences deemed troublesome, ticketing them for unmowed lawns, missing mailbox numbers, or for "allowing" teens to smoke on their property.

This program has bled over into the area's schools, subjecting minors to the same scrutiny for failing to maintain high grades or steady attendance. In one case, a 15-year-old on probation was "visited" by deputies 21 times in six months. Since 2015, 12,500 "checks" have been performed as part of Office's predictive policing program.

The Institute for Justice is representing four plaintiffs, including Robert Jones -- a target of the program who did both things the Office wanted: moved and sued.

Robert Jones, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, knows the cruelties of Pasco’s program firsthand. In 2015, Robert’s teenage son had a number of run-ins with the law. That landed his son on Pasco’s “prolific offender” list. Shortly thereafter deputies started to conduct “prolific offender checks.” These warrantless “checks” involved repeated, unannounced visits to Robert’s home at all hours of the day. Robert grew tired of the harassment and stopped cooperating with police. That only made matters worse.

Code enforcement is a common tactic to compel cooperation. One deputy said they would “literally go out there and take a tape measure and measure the grass if somebody didn’t want to cooperate with us.” In Robert’s case, deputies cited him for tall grass, but failed to notify him of the citation. Then, when he failed to appear for a hearing that he was never told was happening, they arrested him for failure to appear.

All told, Robert was arrested five times by Pasco deputies. Although the bogus charges never stuck—they were all dropped—the harassment accomplished its goal: Robert ultimately moved his family out of Pasco County to escape the constant harassment from the Sheriff’s Office.

The lawsuit [PDF] says the misery inflicted by deputies isn't confined to "targeted" residents. If deputies feel they're not getting enough cooperation from their targets, they'll threaten friends and family members with arrests/citations until they get the level of cooperation they desire.

The lawsuit claims this program violates a number of constitutional rights, including the First and Fourth Amendments. The program makes it impossible for anyone's debt to society to ever be repaid. Plaintiff Dalenea Taylor served two years as a juvenile and hasn't committed any criminal acts since. Despite severing ties to her old criminal acquaintances, deputies have visited her residence as often as "every other day" for the past three years, demanding permission to search her house and threatening friends with criminal charges if they did not cooperate with their demands.

Another plaintiff was harassed by deputies multiple times a day because her son had ended up on the Sheriff's "target" list. This ultimately resulted in deputies manufacturing arrests to turn her into a convicted felon.

In order to avoid prosecution and the risk of additional time in jail, Tammy pled guilty in March 2018 to the offenses of misdemeanor battery, obstructing or resisting an officer without violence, and giving false information to law enforcement.

Subsequently, in September 2018, during another visit to Tammy’s property conducted as part of the Program, PCSO officials arrested Tammy for opening her front screen door into a PCSO deputy in the process of consenting to a search.

Because she was on probation stemming from the prior arrest, Tammy spent 76 days in jail. She accepted a plea deal to avoid additional jail time, and now she is a convicted felon.

There's a pattern of rights violations and intimidation the Sheriff's Office will now have to answer for. Here's another plaintiff's experience with deputies due to her son's (non-violent) criminal activity.

In one instance, PCSO deputies scaled a privacy fence to gain access to Dolly’s property. And in another, PCSO deputies assembled outside the residence and, using a bullhorn, demanded that Tyler—who was not there—come outside.

[...]

As retribution for Dolly’s perceived failure to cooperate with the Program, Dolly was cited for trivial code violations. Specifically, Dolly was fined $3,000 for missing house numbers, tall grass and having construction materials on her property while putting up a fence.

The pervasive harassment and intimidation of residents by the Sheriff's Office is so awful even long-standing supporters of law enforcement are demanding changes.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has called on Florida's governor to remove a sheriff who was sued this week by four residents claiming an intelligence program run by the top cop's agency violated their constitutional rights.

In a tweet on Thursday, Gaetz, a Republican congressman from the Florida Panhandle, said Gov. Ron DeSantis had the authority to remove Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and should consider doing so.

“I don’t care that this is being done by a GOP Sheriff," Gaetz said in the tweet. “Its awful to harass citizens because you think they may commit crimes, hoping to make their lives miserable.'

And even if the program worked, it still wouldn't be an acceptable excuse for years of unwarranted harassment. But it doesn't. The stats don't back up the Office's claim the program is essential to reducing crime.

The agency has previously said it stands behind its intelligence program and credited it with a reduction in burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts over the last decade. The decline mirrors those in nearby police jurisdictions, according to the Times.

A decade of abusing the public and the public's trust and all the Pasco County Sheriff's Office has to show for it is a brand new lawsuit. Hopefully the judge will see this for what it is: a long-running intimidation campaign pretending to be "intelligence-led policing."

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Filed Under: chris nocco, florida, pasco county, pasco county sheriff's office, predictive policing, robert jones


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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    Blain Cue, 16 Mar 2021 @ 9:16pm

    Re: Easy to be sympathetic when don't have to live next to crims

    5th, I bet that the suit is tossed. The visits and other actions are not out of line for the given facts, nor is the policy statement / wish illegal.

    6th, this yet again proves that Techdirt always coddles criminals and attacks police.

    7th, you white privileged top of the first world children will defend criminals so long as you're not personally affected. *You'd be for hanging the neighbor's teenage son if one of his "run-ins with the law" was to burgle your house.


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