DOJ Now Investigating Florida Sheriff's Office For Using A Federal Grant To Fund Its 'Predictive Policing' Harassment Programs
from the claw-it-back dept
The Pasco County (FL) Sheriff’s Office believes in “intelligence-led policing.” This is its formal slang for harassing residents until (in the office’s own words) “they sue or move.” The Sheriff’s Office turns anyone with a criminal background into a suspect-for-life. Deputies visit residences and residents on the “intelligence-led” shit list multiple times a month, demanding answers to questions they have no business asking. When residents fail to comply, nuisance (in every sense of the word) citations are issued for things like uncut grass or missing mailbox numbers.
It doesn’t really matter whether the Sheriff’s Office believes its own PR bullshit. It is fully engaged in harassing as many residents as possible. That’s why it’s allowed its so-called predictive policing program to infiltrate local schools, subjecting minors (and their families) to the same harassment previously limited to adults with criminal records. Almost anything can trigger unwelcome interactions with the office’s deputies, including slipping grades, missed school days, or simply being the victim of, or witness to domestic violence.
Local schools are apparently fine with this. They’ve been sharing student records with the Sheriff’s Office. And the Sheriff’s Office has been sharing this info with officers. Both of these actions appear to violate federal and local student privacy laws. Not that the Sheriff’s Office cares. It says it has done nothing wrong — only availed itself of records shared with it (unlawfully) by schools.
The exposure of these programs by the Tampa Bay Times has led to multiple investigations and accusations of lawbreaking. One of these investigations involves the federal government, which makes it clear it’s not just the locals that find the Sheriff’s Office’s programs abhorrent. The Department of Education opened an investigation in April to determine whether the in-school “intelligence-led policing” violated federal student privacy laws.
There’s a new federal investigation underway. The Department of Justice wants to know what the fuck is going on in Pasco County, Florida. (h/t WarOnPrivacy)
The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting an “intensive review” of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office’s latest intelligence program, federal officials said this week.
The Justice Department sent a letter to the Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 6 — two weeks after the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Sheriff’s Office had promised increased police scrutiny for people whose criminal histories included violent crimes and drug offenses.
The Justice Department’s letter raised concerns about the methodology used to identify targets, communications with the community and the “insufficient” coordination with relevant law enforcement agencies.
The DOJ’s interest no doubt has something to do with the Tampa Bay Times’ incredible reporting. But it also wants to know why it gave the Sheriff’s Office $700,000 if it was just going to use it to violate the terms of the Bureau of Justice Assistance grant.
This is from the DOJ’s letter [PDF] to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office:
Agencies that receive SPI funding are expected to engage members of their communities as allies in reducing violence, ensure transparency in their crime reduction approaches whenever feasible, and establish innovative and effective working relationships with citizens and community leaders to gain support for their proposed policing initiatives. Trust, and building trust, is at the core of SPI funding.
PCSO recently circulated the attached letter to individuals regarding a PCSO-run program (the “PCSO program”), which claimed to be “in cooperation with the Department of Justice’s Strategies for Policing Innovation Initiative.” However, the letter does not adequately depict the dedicated training and technical resources under SPI provided by the Department, nor does it adequately describe the requirements for greater community engagement required for SPI’s success.
We also have concerns regarding the methodology used to identify individuals for inclusion in the PCSO program; the name of the program; communications about the program; the lack of involvement and communication with the greater community about the program; and the insufficient coordination with relevant law enforcement stakeholder groups. These shortcomings have the unfortunate consequence of eroding trust in the community, rather than building trust. Given this, and given the goals of SPI, BJA will undertake an immediate assessment of the activities funded under this grant award.
Brace for some federal damnation. Also, brace for opening up the Pasco County coffers to… um… cough up the $700,000 misused by the Sheriff’s Office to (and I will quote here) “erode trust in the community.”
The Sheriff’s Office has responded [PDF]. And it claims it is completely baffled that the DOJ would think its BS predictive policing/targeted harassment program would undermine trust in the community it’s supposed to be serving. Instead, it says it followed the instructions given to it by the Trump DOJ.
The Pasco Sheriff’s Office (PSO) is in receipt of your correspondence dated August 6, 2021 re- garding the Smart Policing Initiative grant awarded to PSO in 2018. After careful review of the letter, we are left confused as to the origins of the concerns and intentions expressed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). Over the last two years, PSO has been working hand-in-hand with the subject matter experts (SMES)’ assigned by BIA to implement this grant. In fulfilling the conditions of the grant, PSO actively collaborates with the BJA-assigned SMEs as well as the University of South Florida (USF) in research partnership and follows all guidance and directives they provide. The written feedback provided by these SMEs included phrases such as “excellent job!” and “the messaging was delivered well,” and referenced the “fantastic partnerships” PSO established with the SPI project. Yet for reasons unknown to PSO, your letter directly contradicts the guidance we have been provided over the last two years.
No doubt the current DOJ (headed by Merrick Garland) takes a different view of community-oriented policing than the DOJ led by Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr did. If there’s any confusion, it’s due to the DOJ reining in its focus on civil rights violations under Donald Trump and its reemergence post Trump as an agency that will at least engage in investigations of problematic law enforcement agencies, even if it’s not that great at delivering sustainable results.
Too bad. Meet the new boss, not quite the same as the old boss. Flow my tears, the sheriff who didn’t want to comprehend the new paradigm said:
We were excited to work with BJA on this innovative, research-driven initiative, and we are extremely disappointed by this abrupt change in direction.
That’s weird. I thought law enforcement officers are trained experts on reacting to fast-moving situations. But maybe that only refers to the indiscriminate deployment of excessive and/or deadly force. Maybe the only ways cops can embrace change is with chokeholds and bullets.
Sure, it doesn’t help that the DOJ sent contradictory messages to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. But as Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco surely is aware (being that his position is an elected position), the rules can change when the regime changes. The previous administration may have felt the public was the problem and shows of force by armed government employees was the solution. But the current administration doesn’t feel that way. And it has every right to ask why the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office spent nearly a million dollars in federal money alienating the community and harassing their kids.