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Shocker: Florida Sheriff's 'Pre-Crime' Program Leads to Harassment

San Antonio, Texas, USA
By Andrew Leonatti on September 15, 2020 12:03 PM

If you remember the film Minority Report, you know the world it portrayed wasn't exactly paradise for people who value their civil liberties.

In the 2002 film, the Washington, D.C., police department was able to eliminate murder through the use of "precogs," mutated humans who could see into the future, allowing police to arrest murderers before they actually killed. The program had some flaws — to put it lightly — that made for a great Hollywood tale.

Well, a Florida sheriff thought he could set up an intelligence program to stop crime before it happened. The results have been equally as disastrous as in the movie, except this time, it's meant constant harassment of real-life Floridians.

Program Targeted Nearly 1,000 People

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco created what he called a targeted intelligence program that would spot people most likely to break the law. The program used arrest histories and, it appears, not much else.

Once deputies had a name, they would find and repeatedly interrogate the suspect. They would also scour social media posts, bank accounts, and surveillance photos. The problem: they would do all this without warrants, probable cause, or any evidence of a supposed future crime.

Since 2015, the department kept a list of certain people who they thought likely to break the law.

Harassment Was the Norm

Deputies would then routinely visit these "prolific offenders" over and over again. A department manual said that "If the offender does not feel the pressure ... the strategy will have no impact."

Often deputies would write tickets for petty violations or look for other reasons to make arrests, including of the targets' family members. This is the same type of law-enforcement tactic that has earned the nickname of "modern-day debtors' prison."

A former deputy described the goal of the program briefly: "Make their lives miserable until they move or sue." Another former deputy said that his team would show up at "offenders'" homes — up to six times a day — along with the homes of friends and family.

Nocco's office is defending the program, saying that the "Intelligence-Led Policing philosophy works" and arguing that property crime has dropped significantly. Targeting people with a criminal history will reduce crime because those are the people most likely to commit future crimes, the sheriff's office argues.

Remember That You Have Rights

Whether the program "works" is beside the point when hundreds of otherwise law-abiding people are subjected to constant harassment by police officers. And excessive fines for petty violations like grass length often does not have the effect law enforcement thinks it does. It just creates more entrenched poverty.

But the law gives broad protections to police officers who are carrying out their duties. However, you also have civil rights that you can use to your advantage in situations like this. Remember that you have the right to:

  • Remain silent and not answer police questions
  • Deny a police search without a valid search warrant
  • Refuse to get in a police car unless you are under arrest
  • Videotape your interactions with police as long as you are not interfering with other law enforcement actions
  • Consult with a criminal defense attorney, who can speak to police for you

Unless a court steps in or the public outcry becomes overwhelming, it is unlikely that the Pasco County Sheriff's Office will stop their program. Others may try it as well. But remember your rights, and do not be afraid to use them.

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