Sheriff sued for program that 'harasses' people who haven't committed crimes


Tom Cruise plays a police detective arresting ‘future criminals’ in 2002’s ‘Minority Report’ (20th Century Fox)

In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it was HAL, the “Heuristically Programmed Algorithmic” computer, that was ever-present.

In one county in Florida, it’s the “Program.”

A lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice against Chris Nocco, the sheriff of Pasco County, alleges the department operation identifies people the sheriff’s office doesn’t like and harasses them to make their “lives miserable until they move or sue.”

“Today, they sued,” IJ announced.

“Under the guise of ‘predictive policing,’ for the last 10 years the Pasco County sheriff’s department has used a crude computer algorithm to identify and target supposed ‘future criminals,'” the organization said in an announcement about its new case, brought in U.S. District Court in Tampa on behalf of Dalanea Taylor, Tammy Heilman, Darlene Deegan and Robert A. Jones III,” IJ said.

“Once identified, these supposed ‘prolific offenders’—many of whom are minors—are relentlessly surveilled and harassed. As a Tampa Bay Times in-depth investigation uncovered, police regularly show up at their homes unannounced and demand entry. If they or their parents don’t cooperate, police write tickets for petty violations, like missing house numbers or having grass that is too tall. As one former Pasco County deputy put it, they were under orders to ‘make their lives miserable until they move or sue.'”

The lawsuit contends the county’s actions violate the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments.

“Pasco’s program seems like it was ripped from the pages of a dystopian sci-fi novel and not a manual on effective police strategies,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Ari Bargil. “This program isn’t just unethical, it’s patently unconstitutional to use a crude computer calculation to target, harass, fine, and even arrest citizens who have done nothing wrong.”

Jones, IJ said, experienced some of the worst violations.

After his teen son had a run-in with officers in 2015, “deputies started to conduct ‘prolific offender checks.’ These warrantless ‘checks’ involved repeated, unannounced visits to Robert’s home at all hours of the day. Robert grew tired of the harassment and stopped cooperating with police. That only made matters worse,” IJ said.

Then a deputy measured the length of his grass and issued a citation. But he didn’t bother to tell Jones, who was arrested for failing to appear at a hearing “he was never told was happening.”

Four more arrests followed, even though all charges were dropped.

“I lived through a living hell because a computer program said my family didn’t belong in Pasco,” said Robert Jones. “I only thought this kind of thing happened in movies, not in America. We’ve got rights. And I’m going to stand up for them and shut this program down.”

IJ explained “predictive policing” gained popularity years ago, but after experiments, cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago dropped their efforts.

“Pasco defends its program as a crime fighting tool,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Robert Johnson. “But in America, there is no such thing as ‘innocent until predicted guilty.’ The government cannot harass people at their homes just because it thinks they might commit some unspecified future crime.”

The complaint seeks a judgment that the program is unconstitutional and the sheriff’s “Targeted Person” list is illegal.

“The Pasco County sheriff’s office punishes people for crimes they have not yet committed and may never commit,” the complaint states. “It first predicts that certain people may commit future crimes, and then it harasses these people – and their relatives and friends – with relentless visits to their homes at all hours of the day, with unwarranted stops and seizures, and with repeated citations for petty code violations.”

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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