Civil Liberties

Predictive Policing or Targeted Harassment?

Audits and research into the effectiveness of predictive policing have yielded mixed to negative assessments.


Rio Wojtecki, a 15-year-old Florida resident, hadn't been in trouble for nearly a year. But in late 2019, sheriff's deputies started showing up everywhere to "check up" on him.

Over four months, deputies from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office contacted Wojtecki or his family 21 times—at his house, at his gym, at his parents' work. When Wojtecki's older sisters refused to let deputies inside the house during one of their frequent late-night visits, a deputy shouted, "You're about to have some issues." He threatened to write the family a ticket for not having their address number appropriately posted on their mailbox.

Wojtecki was one of nearly 1,000 Pasco County residents who ended up on a list of "prolific offenders" created by the sheriff's predictive policing program. The scope of the program, launched in 2011, was first revealed by the Tampa Bay Times in a stunning investigation published this September.

Predictive policing, or "intelligence-led policing," is the use of algorithms and huge troves of data to analyze crime trends. Departments use predictive policing software to identify crime hot spots—but it can also be used, as in Pasco County, to create "risk scores" that supposedly identify individuals who are likely to be perpetrators or victims of crimes. While Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco touted the program as a futuristic tool to stop crime before it happens by keeping tabs on likely criminals, a former deputy interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times described the program's tactics this way: "Make their lives miserable until they move or sue."

The newspaper found eight other families who said they were threatened with or received code enforcement citations for offenses such as missing mailbox numbers and overgrown grass. Three of the targeted people had developmental disabilities. At least one family did move to a different county to escape the harassment.

During the last decade, several major cities have launched predictive policing programs, lured by the promise of an objective, high-tech method for reducing crime. But audits and research into the effectiveness of such efforts have yielded mixed to negative assessments. Chicago ended a predictive policing program in January following audits by the RAND Corp. and the city's inspector general that revealed serious flaws. Santa Cruz, California, banned the use of such policing tools in June. Portland, Oregon, stopped using one of its predictive policing algorithms in September.

Pasco County nevertheless defends its program. In fact, Nocco plans to expand it to include people frequently committed to psychiatric hospitals under Florida's Baker Act.

NEXT: Brickbat: Mmmmm, Donuts

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  1. Sounds pretty cyberpunk. I wouldn’t mind the techno-authoritarianism if the government kept the streets clear of protestors and the trains on time but the US isn’t as effective as China.

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  2. Rio Wojtecki

    Funny, he doesn’t sound black. What sort of predictive policing is this?

    1. One of the newspapers in Tampa did a rather long-format story about this, I will see if I can find it. It’s worth the read – it’s kinda fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

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      It was a link from a brickbat from back in September.

      One of the victims of this practice ended up killing himself.

        1. That is literally their goal. They are trying to harass these people into removing themselves from their jurisdiction. Read the article.

          One former deputy described the directive like this: “Make their lives miserable until they move or sue.”

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  3. Targeted harassment must be cheaper than pre-cogs.

    1. Less milk in the pool, but less weird hot chick as well.

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  5. This sounds perfectly in sync with predictive voting. Our betters in the media and party leadership know exactly how we will (or should) vote, so no need for expensive (and unpredictable) elections, right?

  6. Vital reform needed in 2021 is removing the “Civil Rights Division” from the U.S. Department of Justice. Without firing any CRD personnel, either make this division a totally separate agency or place it under the Judicial Branch. There is a clear conflict of interest by allowing it to stay at DOJ. DOJ also today still supports tactics like Cointelpro style blacklisting. innocent Americans blacklisted for over 6900 consecutive days of police abuse since 9/11 – still happening in 2020.

    The “Black Lives Matter” movement happened in large part due to the Civil Rights Division being under the control of U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ and DHS promote and financially support state-operated “Fusion Centers” [unconstitutional blacklisting centers] located in almost every state. In other words, the DOJ funds programs that violates civil rights and constitutional rights at the state and local levels, practices that created “Black Lives Matter”.

    Most rank & file police officers are great public servants, but when there are bad apples and police abuses happen, the Civil Rights Division is the real watchdog that enforces civil rights criminal laws. The DOJ’s name is misleading, it is really the Attorney General’s Office, it many times perpetuates injustices of innocent Americans.

    We have a golden opportunity in 2021 to support and strengthen the Civil Rights Division by removing it altogether from the U.S. Department of Justice.

    1. i sense you had been waiting for a police themed article to post this on, but it is completely irrelevant to the article. they are talking about a program that systematically has cops harass people without evidence of any crime….. no number or “good cops” or change in how seriously we take civil rights has anything to do with that. this is a completely manufactured negative interaction with cops that has nothing to do with “bad apples.” it is the kind of systematic problem that flushes the “bad apples” dismissal of complaints right down the toilet.

      1. A minimal understanding of the original “bad apples saying is by itself enough to flush “bad apples” dismissals of complaints.

        “A few bad apples spoil the whole barrel.”

        1. good point.

      2. This is indeed the problem. I see nothing wrong with the general idea of smart policing — that police resources be focused where it makes the most sense to focus them, because not all threats to public safety are equally likely — but I do see something wrong with a flimsy excuse to harrass certain people. This “program” isn’t smart, it’s just a cover, a label slapped over harrassment.

    2. Dozens of state governors have been violating the civil rights of their citizens under color of law since March with the lockdowns. Where are the federal civil rights charges against them?

  7. here comes the future crimes division…..

    mailbox numbers? really? how is that even something you can get a ticket for?

    1. Once upon a time, some friends and I got into trouble removing mailbox numbers with baseball bats. Part of the scared straight spiel was to remind us that fucking with mailboxes is a federal crime. No tickets were issued.

      This sounds 1000% on-the-spot fabricated. Half the house numbers around here are posted above the threshhold. I’m pretty sure even the houses subject to the local historical preservation society have liberty move numbers as they see fit. As long as you don’t try to change your address and don’t complain if the mailman can’t find the numbers you keep posted behind the bushes, have at it.

      1. How does one bat mailboxes having not seen dazed and confused?

    2. E911 response requirement, maybe, if there is no # on the building?

    3. Remember, some of the towns around St Louis were issuing tickets for not having kitchen window curtains.

      1. and people wonder why some don’t like cops. the laws to do things like that should not even exist, let alone be enforced.

    4. It’s the building equivalent of a taillight being out.

      There are hundreds of miniscule regulations that you are supposed to comply with buried in the fire code or building code, but the typical response by cops if they ever do bother with them is a “by the way, you should do this”.

  8. but it can also be used, as in Pasco County, to create “risk scores” that supposedly identify individuals who are likely to be perpetrators or victims of crimes.

    And there is no Captain America around to stop it. Hail Hydra!

    1. Perpetrators OR victims of crimes?

      Someone’s been watching too much Person of Interest.

      1. Victims tend to call the police, which can be an annoyance (to the police).

        Seriously, we recently had a challenge to a local ordinance that would deem a particular renter (or homeowner, but not typically) or unit to be a ‘nuisance’ or ‘problem property’ if the cops were called to the location more than a certain number of times over a certain period.

        One poor lady in my municipality who was the victim of a stalker / domestic violence situation was eventually refused an occupancy permit after calling the police one too many times. She was not allowed to live anywhere in town and had to move. She had not actually committed any crimes – she was the victim.

  9. Proactively pester the cops to say you aren’t doing anything illegal. Probably best if you can get their home or cell phone numbers so you can check in a 3 AM since doing it in person will likely get you executed.

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  11. I seriously hope this goes to court, and the courts ban the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, and every other law enforcement agency in Florida (even better if it’s banned in the entirety of the US) from using “predictive policing” tools in a similar manner to how it’s being used here. I really don’t know how the Sheriff can seriously think that this is OK at all.

  12. Another company making a fortune selling weaponized computer data systems to municipal terrorists.
    The “Sheriffs” should be charged for treason under USC Title 18 section 242 & 242 and hung to make an example of them.

  13. Why do these government officials look at dystopian fiction and think “The villains are pretty cool”? It’s like they saw the premise of minority report, but ignored the climax, conclusion, and the entire theme.

    1. For them, Robocop had a sad ending.

  14. And yet how many of you live in high crime areas? Do you look at crime stats before deciding where to live? Cuz you know, just because crime happened there lots in the past doesn’t mean it’s going to have lots of crime now or in the future. Ahh, but for the elite, predictive housing is ok I guess.

  15. Anyone try to file a simple FOIA request (Freedom of Information Act) with the “Fusion Center” located in your state. Even ask for non-identifying information like “terrorism-searches versus terrorism-convictions”. Even a federal judge can’t get this information.

    Years ago the ACLU found the failure rate exceeding 90% but it’s stamped “secret” even for non-secret information. It’s Cointelpro-style blacklisting (outlawed by Congress in the 1970’s) and the numbers don’t add up.

  16. I don’t need NO STINKIN computer to predict crime. It is real easy and I can cut crime in the land by 50% easily.
    YES 50%
    deport ALL BLACKS just as your hero wanted to do in 1865, yes lincoln’s plan was to send them back to afika, OR to Brazil, which was the LAST COUNTRY to free their slaves in 1888!
    Crime will go down and the other 50% we could take care of as we won’t be considered racist for attacking crime!
    See easy peasy!

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