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. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 10:25pm

    Try to keep up this time, Brainy.

    I bet is the most sympathetic criminals some greedy SJW lawyer could come up with, and similarly that you would not re-write it if had to defend a real criminal.

    An unfair system is unfair regardless of whether someone accused of a crime actually committed the crime. Torture in the service of eliciting a confession is appalling if the victim of that torture is an innocent man or a brutal serial killer.

    And while my sympathies would go out only to the families of the victims of that killer, I would also recognize that — like the innocent man — that killer has civil rights, and the police shouldn’t be allowed to violate them.

    I bet further that this story is far exaggerated

    Prove it is. Because I can believe all those stories thanks to the state of modern policing in the United States.

    Up to you asserting to "prove" it from sources.

    The sources are the people who actually went through/witnessed the actions of the police. Do you mean to say they’re all lying?

    You fail to connect up your "predictive policing" theme. This is AFTER the fact "prolific", NOT "predicted".

    When the cops say “prolific”, does that mean “prolific” in the sense that the teen committed several major offenses? Or does “prolific” mean the cops hassled the teen over minor offenses and labelled him “prolific” to justify surveillance and “preventative” — maybe even “predictive” — policing of the teen?

    crime fell in nearby counties even without this explicit effort

    Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation; that much is true. But you can’t prove a causal link between the drop in crime rates in surrounding counties and the “predictive policing” program any more than anyone else can prove those crime rates dropped without the help of the program. We can make informed assumptions, though. And if the nearby counties saw a similar decrease in crime rates without using the program…well, the assumption there is obvious.

    (For that matter, the police also can’t prove that the “predictive policing” program alone caused the drop in crime rates. Neither can you.)

    "mirrors" reverse appearances!

    But they don’t change appearances. The point in using “mirror” was in implying the verb we most often connect with the noun usage of that word: “reflect”.

    I bet that the suit is tossed.

    If it doesn’t get tossed, will you stop commenting?

    I’m not betting anything, I just want you to shut up.

    The visits and other actions are not out of line for the given facts

    Except they are. They’re excessive at best, outright harassment for the sake of drumming up bullshit charges at worst.

    nor is the policy statement / wish illegal

    A police officer should be looking to serve all peoples, not run certain peoples out of town because of whatever personal biases they may hold. When I talked about whether the victims of the “predictive policing” program were Black, this question is what I was hinting at: Did the cops intend to target a specific segment of the population for the sake of running them out of town because of personal biases?

    this yet again proves that Techdirt always coddles criminals and attacks police

    Two things.

    1. A “criminal” is still a person, regardless of whether they’ve been accused/convicted of a crime and what their crime is, and their civil rights and basic humanity should be respected even when they’re in prison.

    2. When police act in a manner that doesn’t make people think “this department needs to be reformed from deeper than the ground up”, it doesn’t need to be explcitly pointed out every time because that’s how cops should be acting.

    you white privileged top of the first world children will defend criminals so long as you're not personally affected

    I defend, and believe in, the idea that the criminal justice system in the United States should be fair and equitable. All peoples should be able to step into a courtroom with the presumption of innocence, receive a fair trial, have their civil rights respected by both the police and the prosecuting office, and receive humane treatment while imprisoned. Killers and innocents alike should be treated no differently on those fundamental levels. The same goes for people across different sociopolitical strata (e.g., age, race, political affiliation, economic status, career).

    No one person should be placed above the law — or beneath it.

    You'd be for hanging the neighbor's teenage son if one of his "run-ins with the law" was to burgle your house.

    Joke’s on you, shitbucket: I stand against the death penalty.


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