The Sheriff’s Office may have some lofty goals that involve stopping crime before it starts, but the supposedly forward-looking policing program does little more than subject past offenders (along with friends, families, and acquaintances) to sustained harassment by law enforcement officers. What’s supposed to keep crime down by directing resources to possible serious criminal activity has manifested as multiple visits from officers who do little more than try to coerce people into consenting to unlawful searches and write out nuisance citations for things like missing mailbox numbers or uncut grass.
The Sheriff’s Office has since spun this off to include students at public schools, presumably to prep kids for a future of pointless harassment by law enforcement officers simply because they have the misfortune of living in Pasco County.
Thanks to some lawsuits and investigations, the Sheriff’s Office is being a bit more proactive on the notification front. According to this ongoing investigation by the Tampa Bay Times, targets of the "intelligence" program are now being informed they’ve been blacklisted by the Sheriff’s Office.
It starts like an offer of admission from a prestigious university.
“We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected…” it says.
But the four-page letter from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office goes on to tell recipients they will be facing enhanced police scrutiny under the agency’s controversial intelligence program.
“You may wonder why you were enrolled in this program,” the letter continues. “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.”
It all sounds so positive. While there’s really no evidence this is actually "evidence-based" or "unbiased," at least the Sheriff’s Office is willing to "encourage change in your life." It sounds nice but "encouragement" probably just means "constant harassment" and "enhanced support" is probably a euphemism for suspicionless searches. "Increased accountability" may be part of this program, but it won’t be applied to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Nope, there’s a really good chance "increased accountability" means more fines, more citations, more arrests, and more jail time.
It’s definitely an attempt at a lighter touch.
The new letter to so-called “prolific offenders” says its purpose is to communicate the agency’s “sincere desire” to help recipients “begin a new path.”
“We are committed to your success,” it says.
But is it sincere? All evidence points to "no." The stated goal of the Sheriff’s "pre-crime" program was, in the department’s own words, to make targets so miserable they either moved or sued the Sheriff’s Office. Now that some targets have done both, the Office appears to be trying to rein things in just a bit, or at least pretend the program is not solely about vindictive, unjustified harassment of certain Pasco County residents.
After all the sweet things about wanting to help people live their best lives, the letter [PDF] gets down to business. If program targets can’t meet the standards the Office doesn’t bother detailing in this letter, they can expect even more law enforcement interaction in the future.
“Our desire to help you will not hinder us from holding you fully accountable for your choices and actions.”
It then says the Sheriff’s Office will share recipients’ names and criminal histories with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to ensure “the highest level of accountability” for any future crimes they commit.
External pressure may have forced the Sheriff’s Office to reconsider its "intelligence-led policing" program. But this letter shows it didn’t get much further than sanding down the edges of some of its sharper words. The changes appear to be limited to giving residents heads up on their impending misery.