In the autumn of 2020, the Tampa Bay Times published an investigation into the Pasco County Sheriff's Department, which was openly boasting about its new Minority Report-inspired intelligence gathering program. I wrote about it then, but here's a quick summary of how it works:
First the Sheriff's Office generates lists of people it considers likely to break the law, based on arrest histories, unspecified intelligence and arbitrary decisions by police analysts.
Then it sends deputies to find and interrogate anyone whose name appears, often without probable cause, a search warrant or evidence of a specific crime.
They swarm homes in the middle of the night, waking families and embarrassing people in front of their neighbors. They write tickets for missing mailbox numbers and overgrown grass, saddling residents with court dates and fines. They come again and again, making arrests for any reason they can.
One former deputy described the directive like this: "Make their lives miserable until they move or sue."
In just five years, Nocco's signature program has ensnared almost 1,000 people.
As they make checks, deputies feed information back into the system, not just on the people they target, but on family members, friends and anyone else in the target's orbit.
In the past two years alone, two of the nation's largest law enforcement agencies have scrapped similar programs following public outcries and reports documenting serious flaws.
In Pasco, however, the initiative has expanded. Last summer, the Sheriff's Office announced plans to begin keeping tabs on people who have been repeatedly committed to psychiatric hospitals.
That's gonna be a yikes from me.
Now the Tampa Bay Times has obtained and published the 2-page letter that the police department sends to these "potential" criminals, informing them that they have been "enrolled" in a special program for "increased police accountability." Here's how it starts:
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.
As the Times notes, these letters were sent to people with existing criminal histories. In other words, the police are circumventing the legal system in order to force certain people into mandatory probation programs. They also noted:
The Times found being named a Sheriff's Office target could have serious consequences. Deputies showed up at homes at all hours of the day and night, writing tickets for violations like overgrown grass and making arrests for any reason they could find.
It's not clear how that's supposed to help someone who's dealing with mental health or substance abuse or domestic violence or homelessness.
Pasco Sheriff's Office letter targets residents for 'increased accountability' [Kathleen McGrory / Tampa Bay Times]
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