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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  • identicon
    Whoever, 16 Mar 2021 @ 3:38pm

    "GOP Sheriff"

    Right there is the root of the problem. The idea that a Sheriff should belong to a particular party and not be neutral in the performance of his job.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 3:50pm

      'Now had he been a democrat...'

      Somewhat more disturbing is implications in that statement that if the sheriff weren't a member of the GOP the bar for removal would have been a lot lower, as the only reason I can think of to even mention political affiliation in that manner is to basically say that even that isn't enough to cover for him.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 12:53pm

      Re: "GOP Sheriff"

      I don't know if you're American but, in many states, county Sheriffs are elected on a partisan ballot.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 3:51pm

    The other side

    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.

    The targeted residents of Pasco county have a lot more to show for it: a decade of harassment, fines, arrests, convictions, jail time, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 3:54pm

    'Presenting Exhibit A, all that should be needed.'

    That the scumbag in uniform flat out admitted that the goal was to harass people until they either sued or moved away should be enough to utterly gut any immunity or defense and allow them to go after his personal finances, because as bad as the US legal system is as far as I know it hasn't quite gotten bad/honest enough for 'targeted harassment intended to drive people out of an area' to fall under a sanctioned form of 'law enforcement'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 4:16pm

    I’m left wondering if the targets of this “predicitive policing” had something in common — like, say, the amount of melanin in their skin.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Bobvious, 16 Mar 2021 @ 8:16pm

      Re: Melanin in their skin

      Funny you should mention that. Predictive harassment at it's best, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BO8EpfyCG2Y as only the Brits can explain it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Blain Cue, 16 Mar 2021 @ 9:22pm

      Re: So A. Stephen Stone expects criminals to be black.

      I’m left wondering if the targets of this “predicitive policing” had something in common — like, say, the amount of melanin in their skin.

      That's the way I take your comment.
      You could prove your expectation, but guess you'd rather just slip in unfounded racism.

      If you intend otherwise, better start exercising more care, 'cause you surely know how easy it is to trigger "the left" these days.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 9:55pm

        A person can be targeted by “predictive policing” without having committed crimes. Given the way this department’s “predictive policing” program seems to have operated, that even a slim majority of the innocent targets of said program might be Black wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

        Given your deliberate misinterpretation of what I said, you’d be the one who believes anyone targeted by the police is a criminal. That would mean you think any Black person targeted by “predictive policing” is a criminal.

        What’s that saying about accusations and confessions, again?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 8:08am

        Re: Re: So A. Stephen Stone expects criminals to be black.

        "You could prove your expectation, but guess you'd rather just slip in unfounded racism."

        ...says the man who just glorified his adherence to fascism in one brilliant short sentence.

        Tell me, when the term "predictive policing" was raised, did your brain just shortcut and turn "personal guessing and hunches" by officers of the law into "validated arrests" in some odd way?

        What actually triggers "the left" - by which i assume you mean "sane people" - would be the fact that brown people are harrassed by US law enforcement far more often. Get shot to death far more often, and for the same crimes and burden of evidence, get harsher sentences and convictions far more often.

        I should perhaps assume you were just trolling but unfortunately the preponderance of the evidence so far suggests anyone peddling the alt-right rhetoric actually is as dumb as they sound.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 5:20pm

    Funny, given the statistics... shouldn't they have been visiting off duty officers to make sure they weren't beating their wives, hitting their kids, molesting people, brandishing weapons to win debates?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 16 Mar 2021 @ 5:49pm

    A rational person could have predicted this result.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sumgai (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 6:24pm

    The beauty here is that because there was no "split second to make a decision", and in fact there's a long trail of habitual behavior, these factors will add up to there being reason to grant "Qualified Immunity" to these ass-clowns. And to do it right, the suit needs to include current and past County Council members who also knew about this, and did nothing about it. That would be accountability.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Blain Cue, 16 Mar 2021 @ 9:15pm

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

    First, 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. You're silent on whether this is applied to those whom more clearly deserve it, not least 'cause any such won't serve your purpose.

    2nd, I bet further that this story is far exaggerated -- or it wouldn't be here. "multiple times a day" visits to home of juvenile trouble-maker? Baloney! Doesn't sound likely unless the only in county! Up to you asserting to "prove" it from sources.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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

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

      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.

      3rd, You fail to connect up your "predictive policing" theme. This is AFTER the fact "prolific", NOT "predicted".

      The decline mirrors those in nearby police jurisdictions, according to the Times.

      4th, The unwary will assume what you (and whoever you copied from) wishes: that crime fell in nearby counties even without this explicit effort. But no context is actually stated: those counties could also have increased efforts and gotten the same good results. -- By the way: "mirrors" reverse appearances! This could be a word trick as Techdirt is so fond of: could be that the reduction in Pasco was "mirrored" by increases in others.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • 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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 12:57am

        Re:

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

        If he is, then the burden of proof is on him. I'm not going to hold my breath for the level of honesty and ability to deal with reality that would result in such proof being presented.

        "A “criminal” is still a person, regardless of whether they’ve been accused/convicted of a crime and what their crime is"

        More to the real point - a "criminal" is a suspect until he has been given the due process of a fair trial and convicted of a crime. For all his wailing about individual rights, he always seems to demand that we just skip that step before punishment is administered.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 8:13am

          Re: Re:

          "More to the real point - a "criminal" is a suspect until he has been given the due process of a fair trial and convicted of a crime."

          Not in Baghdad Bob's mind. We've seen him shit all over presumed innocence for about ten years now. In his mind the accusation is the malfeasance proven...as long as it's the right person making the accusation.

          As long as it's a white non-jewish person or a copyright holder accusing someone else, he interprets that as proven fact and when confronted with evidence to the contrary will still insist it's better for a hundred innocents to be convicted than it is for a single miscreant to slip away. Or a thousand innocents if the accusation concerns copyright infringement, as we can see from his avid defense speeches in favor of Prenda.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 1:47pm

            Re: Re: Re:

            Adding a good dash of hypocritical humor(not to mention another good reason to ignore their whining on the subject) of course is their penchant for throwing massive tantrums when their comments get caught by the spam filter, because guilty until proven innocent is only for other people dammit!

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 18 Mar 2021 @ 1:27am

              Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "...because guilty until proven innocent is only for other people dammit!"

              Yeah, Baghdad Bob's lack of self-awareness would be a case study of compartmentalization and dunning-kruger for any fledgling psychologist looking for thesis material.

              I think I'm stuck somewhere between reluctant pity for the poor mentally disabled person who's wasted the last ten years of his life screaming hysterically about "PuNiShMeNt! Pirates!! Ze Jews!!"...and utter revulsion over just how low a presumably human being can sink without society carefully leading him/her into closed rehab.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 12:06am

    • "predicts" someone will be involved in a crime
    • makes them a victim of crime by harassing them

    Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2021 @ 5:07am

    nothing like a little EXTORTION!

    "predictive policing." more like predator policing!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 8:54am

    I have dealt with friends and family having this sort of trouble in the third world, but usually only until they cave in and pay whatever bribes are required to make it stop

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2021 @ 9:08am

    when a noble cause goes bad!

    WOW! after going through a whole lot of story's and videos, i have no doubt this predatory policing program will be shut down! with too many problem issues and violations of civil rights i would expect the sheriff to be indited for fraud, conspiracy, coercion, intimidation, corruption, malfeasance in office, harassment. the Tampa Bay Times did a real good job of exposing the ongoing criminal activity of this unconstitutional program!
    other similar programs have been shut down for rights violations and have been deemed unconstitutional!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 10:21am

      Re: when a noble cause goes bad!

      i would expect the sheriff to be indited

      What an optimistic viewpoint. I hope you're right (also there is for some reason a silent 'c' in that word - "indicted").

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 1:29pm

    "Predictive policing is pretty much garbage everywhere"

    This is only the latest in a long run of incidents where Garbage useless tool utilized by law enforcement to circumvent bill of rights and justify arrest / assault of innocent people. This has been going on for years. Decades even.

    So at what point are the courts going to realize this only sets them up to receive a lot of police abuses and false charges, and properly start vetting new (expensive) tools that often don't actually work?

    Or is this a feature, not a bug?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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