In this video that aired on Feb. 28, 2022, Pasco residents claim the department’s controversial policing program goes too far.
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office reportedly plans to change its controversial intelligence-led policing (ILP) program that’s currently facing multiple legal challenges in court, documents show.
The agency, which is led by Sheriff Chris Nocco, has used ILP as a tool for more than 10 years.
More recently, the program has been the subject of multiple lawsuits that accuse the sheriff of discrimination and harassment through the program’s use. Nocco has been sheriff in Pasco County since 2011.
A federal legal challenge was filed in March 2021, and there has been plenty of back and forth between the sheriff’s office and the plaintiffs. Now recent filings suggest the program may be coming to an end, or at least changing forms.
Critics say the sheriff’s office has been using the program to compile a list of individuals it believes will commit crimes in the future, “using questionable criteria.” They say the individuals, as well as their families, are then subjected to “relentless pursuit, arrest, and prosecution.”
According to the lawsuit against PSO, sheriff’s deputies are “repeatedly making unannounced visits to homes of Targeted Persons, who are often minors, during which deputies demand entry to the home or information about the Targeted Person’s comings and going.”
In court documents, the sheriff’s office has described the program as “a management philosophy with a focus on information sharing and collaborative strategic solutions to policing problems.”
Its instructional handbook says the program emphasizes analysis and intelligence for objective decision-making, and prioritizes “crime hot spots, repeat victims, prolific offenders, and criminal groups.”
The handbook says the policy is intended to facilitate crime and harm reduction in the community, as well as reducing disruption, and preventing crime through “strategic and tactical management, deployment, and enforcement.”
ILP is “not an after thought,” and should be part of officers’ “daily battle rhythm,” the booklet said.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit said “the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to be secure in one’s home and to be free from arbitrary and suspicion-less police tactics. The government cannot punish you—or your friends or your family—for crimes you haven’t committed. The PCSO’s official policy and widespread custom of predictive policing therefore violates the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”
The sheriff’s office said the case should be dismissed, arguing that the incidents mentioned in the suit were “discrete incidents” that did not qualify as unreasonable or standing for a lawsuit.
When asked for comment about the program and lawsuits, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman said program was not “predictive policing,” like the plaintiffs claimed, and pushed back on criticism of the way it was being used.
“The Pasco Sheriff’s Office continues to stand behind the intelligence-led policing philosophy and continues to note that the Sheriff’s Office does not now, nor have we ever, engaged in predictive policing,” Public Information Officer Britney Morris said in a statement. “Over the several years long timespan that these lawsuits have been filed, it is natural for any law enforcement agency to adapt practices to continue to best serve our community, just as we had done before any lawsuits.”
Morris said the sheriff’s office will continue to defend itself against the allegations in court rather than “litigate through the media.” She said that the office “strenuously disagrees with any other characterization or purported reasoning behind any changes made in other reporting.”
A lawyer with the Institute of Justice, which represents the plaintiffs, said the sheriff had not ended the policy but changed it.
It appears the sheriff’s office will change its protocols from a focus on “prolific” offender identification to one that identifies “focused offenders.”
“PSO has not abandoned its past policy so much as it simply has modified it. Rather than classify people as ‘prolific offenders’ using a crude algorithm, PSO officials have adopted a new moniker—’focused offender’—that is purely subjective and applied based on data analyzed by PSO’s still-very-much-active intelligence-led policing division,” Ari Bargil, of IJ, said in a statement to WFLA.com. “Their new policy does not prohibit random checks, nor does it prohibit the imposition of a zero-tolerance policy, both hallmarks of the policy they claim to have abandoned.”
Bargil went further, saying the claims by PSO that the changes make the lawsuit “moot” undermines the sheriff’s “stance that there was nothing constitutionally problematic about the old policy.”
Regardless, the lawsuit is still pending. Although a judge could make a decision in the case soon, no date has been scheduled yet for next steps. The most recent events in the lawsuit were discussed at a status conference on March 14.