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“We Are Pleased To Inform You That You Have Been Selected…”

So there you are, sitting in your home when a letter arrives in the mail announcing “you have been selected…”

Oh the joy!

You don’t know what you have been selected for, but any time you are “selected” out of the entire population has to be a good thing, right?

You then notice that the letter is from the Pasco County (FL) Sheriff’s Office.

As you scan the letter, your joy turns sour:

We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to participate in a Prolific Offender Program run by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office in cooperation with the Department of Justice Strategies for Policing Innovation Initiative. This program provides you with an opportunity to receive assistance from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and several community partners who will work with you to identify and overcome barriers that have hindered you in your life’s journey. Ultimately, the goal of this program is to empower you to live a lawful, productive and fulfilled life.

Research indicates that barriers to successful living may involve struggles with mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, finding a job, or several other challenges many people face on a daily basis. It is possible you have struggled with some of these issues. If so, please know the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is committed to support you in overcoming these challenges through this program.

You may wonder why you were enrolled in this program. You were selected as a result of an evaluation of your recent criminal behavior using an unbiased, evidence-based risk assessment designed to identify prolific offenders in our community. As a result of this designation, we will go to great efforts to encourage change in your life through enhanced support and increased accountability. If you refrain from criminal activity over the next two years, your Prolific Offender designation will be removed.

The “Minority Report” comes to life in Pasco County.

As part of the “encouragement,” police will stop by your home to talk to you without probable cause at all hours of the day. If you don’t want to talk to them, they will start citing your home for code violations or pulling you over in your car for no discernible reason.

In addition, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office will get school records on your children to see attendance, grades, discipline and other issues so they can “encourage” kids as well.

Getting onto the list that generates the letter is “interesting,” to say the least:

The people on the list are what the department calls “prolific offenders.” The manual describes them as individuals who have “taken to a career of crime” and are “not likely to reform.”

Potential prolific offenders are first identified using an algorithm the department invented that gives people scores based on their criminal records. People get points each time they’re arrested, even when the charges are dropped. They get points for merely being a suspect.

The manual says people’s scores are “enhanced” — it does not say by how much — if they miss court dates, violate their probation or appear in five or more police reports, even if they were listed as a witness or the victim.

It appears in Pasco County, you are guilty even if you are the victim of a crime.

The result of all this is that family members and friends get dragged into a policy that for all intents and purposes, is harassment. When that happens, they get threatened with arrest for “obstruction,” cited for code violations, and cannot live their lives in peace.

The police then become the enemy to these people.

Pasco County says the program works, but does it?

The Sheriff’s Office said its program was designed to reduce bias in policing by using objective data. And it provided statistics showing a decline in burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts since the program began in 2011.

“This reduction in property crime has a direct, positive impact on the lives of the citizens of Pasco County and, for that, we will not apologize,” one of the statements said. “Our first and primary mission is to serve and protect our community and the Intelligence Led Policing philosophy assists us in achieving that mission.”

But Pasco’s drop in property crimes was similar to the decline in the seven-largest nearby police jurisdictions. Over the same time period, violent crime increased only in Pasco.

It is impossible to predict the future behavior of anyone which is what the police are doing.

Criminal justice experts said they were stunned by the agency’s practices. They compared the tactics to child abuse, mafia harassment and surveillance that could be expected under an authoritarian regime.

“Morally repugnant,” said Matthew Barge, an expert in police practices and civil rights who oversaw court-ordered agreements to address police misconduct in Cleveland and Baltimore.

“One of the worst manifestations of the intersection of junk science and bad policing — and an absolute absence of common sense and humanity — that I have seen in my career,” said David Kennedy, a renowned criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, whose research on crime prevention is referenced in Pasco’s policies.

Backed by the Institute for Justice, four families are now suing the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office:

The Sheriff’s Office of Pasco County, Florida, harasses people in their own homes using a method they call “predictive policing.” The program has unfolded like a dystopian nightmare for the Pasco County residents it has ensnared, who have been subjected to near-constant police surveillance and harassment. The Sheriff’s Office claims the program’s goal is to predict and prevent crime before it happens by targeting people they suspect may commit crimes in the future, dubbing the approach “intelligence-led policing.” This euphemism may make it seem like there’s thoughtfulness to the approach, but there’s nothing fair or smart about it.

[….]

Worse, the motivation of the program is more sinister than merely “fighting crime”: The Sheriff’s Office acknowledged that they want these “problem people” gone. Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, the architect of the program, boasted that the goal was to predict which residents are likely to commit crimes and then “take them out.” In the words of a former Pasco County deputy, they were under orders to “[m]ake their lives miserable until they move or sue.”

Experts on policing have roundly criticized Pasco County’s practices, pointing out that it is based on junk science and could tend to reinforce racially biased policing practices.

But the Sheriff’s use of predictive policing is not only methodologically shaky; it’s unconstitutional. The government cannot harass you in your home just because it has decided that you or someone you live with might someday do something wrong. That’s why Robert, Dalanea, Tammy, and Dolly have decided to challenge Pasco’s program, alongside the Institute for Justice, in court to affirm the basic principle that there is no such thing as “innocent until predicted guilty.”

One has to wonder if the methods employed by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is instead of helping people away from a life of crime, is not driving them into it. Instead of support, the tactics seem to be designed to harass people. Eventually, that kind of pressure is going to make innocent people snap back at the police who then charge the person with a crime and viola! The computer algorithm worked!


The Tampa Bay Times has been doing a lot of work on this topic and their investigation should be read.

If nothing else, take a look at the montage of police body cam footage they have put together:

How a Florida Sheriff harasses families: Watch the body-cam video

We have to wonder how we would react to the constant pressure of police at our home, schools and jobs.

We think we’d lash out too.

It they are going to treat people like criminals, it is understandable to an extent that people will act like criminals.



One Response to ““We Are Pleased To Inform You That You Have Been Selected…””

  1. Percy Veer says:

    I fully support our LEO’s most of the time but it’s heavy handed actions like those shown in the attached body cam videos that give police everywhere a black eye. I’m sure someone had good intentions but this program needs to be shut down immediately.

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