Florida Cops Sued for Hassling People Over Crimes They Might Commit in the Future

Predictive policing lets authorities add a science-y gloss to hammering people who rub them the wrong way.


Predictive policing—a concept seemingly pulled straight from the 2002 popcorn flick Minority Report—has become increasingly hot with law enforcement agencies over the past decade. The field tempts budget-minded officeholders and cops alike with its science-y promise to forecast where crimes will occur in the future and who will commit them, targeting risk while minimizing wasted resources. But it also holds the potential to justify hassling people based on what a computer program and biases entered as data say they might someday do. That's the basis of a recent lawsuit charging that a Florida sheriff's department has used predictive policing to harass the innocent.

"Predictive policing is the use of analytical techniques to identify promising targets for police intervention with the goal of preventing crime, solving past crimes, and identifying potential offenders and victims," according to a 2013 RAND Corporation report. Even in those early days of the field, though, the report acknowledged that "[t]he very act of labeling areas and people as worthy of further law enforcement attention inherently raises concerns about civil liberties and privacy rights."

In 2012, Reason's Ron Bailey observed that the developing field had some promise. But he warned that "[t]he accuracy of predictive policing programs depends on the accuracy of the information they are fed" and that "we should always keep in mind that any new technology that helps the police to better protect citizens can also be used to better oppress them."

Fast-forward a few years, and we have those concerns fulfilled in spades.

"Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco took office in 2011 with a bold plan: to create a cutting-edge intelligence program that could stop crime before it happened," the Tampa Bay Times reported last September. "What he actually built was a system to continuously monitor and harass Pasco County residents."

How does the Pasco County program live up to everybody's worst fears of acting on predictions of what people haven't done but might do?

"First the Sheriff's Office generates lists of people it considers likely to break the law, based on arrest histories, unspecified intelligence and arbitrary decisions by police analysts," the newspaper's report noted. "Then it sends deputies to find and interrogate anyone whose name appears, often without probable cause, a search warrant or evidence of a specific crime."

"Make their lives miserable until they move or sue," is how a former deputy described the department's tactics to reporters.

Now a group of county residents, represented by the Institute for Justice, is suing the county over the department's conduct. They describe years of harassing visits by cops who dropped by because the system identified them as potential offenders. When the residents lost patience with the continued police presence in their lives, officers deployed the red tape of the endless regulatory state against them to encourage compliance or to simply cause pain.

"Code enforcement is a common tactic to compel cooperation," reports the Institute for Justice. "One deputy said they would 'literally go out there and take a tape measure and measure the grass if somebody didn't want to cooperate with us.' In Robert's case, deputies cited him for tall grass, but failed to notify him of the citation. Then, when he failed to appear for a hearing that he was never told was happening, they arrested him for failure to appear."

The citations didn't have to stick to work as intended. The slow torture of tickets, arrests, and disrupted lives drove some to pick up and move out of Pasco County to avoid harassment—by that particular department, at least.

The Pasco County lawsuit isn't the first filed over predictive policing, though it appears to be the only one to-date that addresses how the approach is used in practice. Given the field's relative youth, other lawsuits have sought transparency on just what sort of information and calculations are used to make predictions. Many civil liberties advocates are concerned that shiny tech talk is being used to add a scientific gloss to what police already want to do.

"[W]hile big data companies claim that their technologies can help remove bias from police decision-making, algorithms relying on historical data risk reproducing those very biases," worries Tim Lau of the Brennan Center for Justice, which sued the New York City Police Department for information about its predictive policing program.

"[I]n numerous jurisdictions, these systems are built on data produced during documented periods of flawed, racially biased, and sometimes unlawful practices and policies," argues a 2019 NYU Law Review article by researchers with the university's AI Now Institute. "If predictive policing systems are informed by such data, they cannot escape the legacies of the unlawful or biased policing practices that they are built on."

Those policing systems can affect a lot of lives. Over five years, the Pasco County predictive program targeted almost 1,000 people, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Roughly 10 percent of those targeted were younger than 18, and some had only one or two arrests to bring them to the attention of the authorities. Once on the radar, those in the system receive repeated visits at all hours of the day and are at the receiving end of tickets or handcuffs at the slightest excuse. Given the spider's web of laws and regulations in which Americans now live, police have no difficulty finding a reason to fine or arrest those who their algorithms say are worthy of special attention.

Has the torment of some county residents at least made others safer? That doesn't seem to be the case.

"Pasco's drop in property crimes was similar to the decline in the seven-largest nearby police jurisdictions," the newspaper's September report noted. "Over the same time period, violent crime increased only in Pasco."

Whatever the field's potential for channeling law enforcement effort to where it's most needed, and away from places it's unnecessary, predictive policing has become just another excuse for the authorities to hammer those who rub them the wrong way.

NEXT: Ava Antibody Explains

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Just keep poking somebody you think is going to take a swing at you until they take a swing at you.

    1. Yes, this, exactly! And here is your result (from the article):

      “Over the same time period, violent crime increased only in Pasco.”

      Injustice begets violence! Who knew?!?!

      1. Evil begets evil.

        1. And in SQRLSY’s case, eating shit just creates more shit.

          1. Making money online more than 15$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its earnings are much better than regular office job and even a little child can do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
            on this page…..VISIT HERE

      2. And that’s not even counting the police violence – but only because the DOJ rarely prosecutes civil rights violations by cops as the crimes they are.

    2. Indeed. There’s actually a dearth of evidence that on of the best predictors of a community’s crime rates is trust in law enforcement/the justice system. The way this system was deployed is almost assured to make any targeted individual (and indeed their immediate peers) more at-risk to commit crimes than they already were.

      1. Dearth?

  2. If this is true, it’s a masive criminal conspiracy. This Sherriff and his co conspirators should be facing prosecution for kidnapping, imprisonment and battery. That spider web of criminality in America should work both ways. Investigate these allegations and arrest these cop thugs.

    1. Note that the co-conspirators are bid tech.
      Perhaps Pasco should just arrest Zuckerberg and his gang and be done with it.
      More likely, they will just let twitter tell them who is naughty and who is nice.

      (On a side note, stories like this might keep a few New Yorkers from moving down here, so – – – – – – )

    2. The accusation that the Sheriff’s department deliberately failed to notify a person of a ticket and hearing is a very serious one. If it can be proved, then every person involved in this should be fired/dishonorably discharged/disbarred and then imprisoned for the combination of unlawful imprisonment and perjury.

      1. This targeting is happening all over the country. I would get tickets that were never delivered until they doubled and tripled and when I told the judge she said tough luck. It’s a deliberate tactic against people being persecuted by our federal law enforcement.

    3. Facing prosecution? They should be facing execution for Treason against their oath and War against the constitution.
      This is the result of an injustice system carefully constructed over the past 150 years to usurp constitutional law & prevent “We the People” from keeping our public servants on a leash where they belong.
      Until people start to not only grasp the concept that codes are not law but start to enforce that in any and every interaction with their public servants, we will have nothing but BAR Association induced tyranny.
      “The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and the name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it.” 16th American Jurisprudence 2d, Section 177 late 2nd, Section 256

  3. “Make their lives miserable until they move”

    This is hardly new to policing. ask any “vagrant” ever.

  4. I live in Florida, and I post here regularly.
    We’ve all seen the spam bots asking to click on the links to make a lot of money.
    I have a real job offer for any medical doctors who live in Orlando or South Florida.
    You can be any specialty.
    We are looking for doctors to review the billings of Medicare clinics.
    That’s all you will do, one day a month, is visit the clinics and look for irregularities in the billing.
    They do not bill under your license, you do not supervise anyone, you are merely reviewing their billing. You are looking for fraud, and do not take on any malpractice liability.
    We pay $4000 a month for one day a month work.
    If you are a medical doctor with a license to practice in Florida and you live in Orlando or South Florida please contact me for this excellent side job.

    1. The bots are becoming self aware.

      1. They are being trained by their cousins, the drones – – – – – – – –

      2. The Voight-Kampff test measures bodily functions such as respiration, heart rate, blushing and eye movement in response to emotionally provocative questions. It typically took twenty to thirty cross-referenced questions to distinguish a Nexus-6 replicant.

    2. Nothing says legitimate offer like a company advertising to contract medical doctors through a political website’s comment section.

      1. Maybe he’s hoping to get the gig to someone of a similar political persuasion. If I had a gig offering a spare $4k a month for a day’s work, I’d rather hand it to someone on “my team” than some lousy statist.

  5. It is almost as if Red Flag Laws are a bad idea.

  6. Science deniers!

  7. “Then it sends deputies to find and interrogate anyone whose name appears, often without probable cause, a search warrant or evidence of a specific crime.”

    Get them on video admitting they don’t have probable cause and sue the county. The sheriff’s department may not get it, but when the county’s facing the death of 1000 cuts, they’ll intervene.

  8. “Given the spider’s web of laws and regulations in which Americans now live, police have no difficulty finding a reason to fine or arrest those who their algorithms say are worthy of special attention.”

    This is a significant part of the problem. For most of us (all of us?) it is effectively impossible to comply with all laws and regulations. Which means that if police and / or prosecutors choose to target you, for any reason (or for no reason at all), you are in deep trouble. And unless you have deep pockets, you have little recourse.

  9. The American concept of “Law & Order” means that citizens follow written laws. If those laws are illegal or unconstitutional, those laws can be overturned by the courts in constitutional lawsuits.

    “Law & Order” also means police officers, FBI, DHS, military and CIA follow the U.S. Constitution (as interpreted by the Judicial Branch courts).

    For example: In 2021, it’s illegal for police or other federal officials, to surveil anyone on U.S. soil, longer than 2 weeks, without a judicial-warrant from a judge. The verbatim wording from “Carpenter v. US” applies to all totalitarian style surveillance – even non-electronic surveillance.

    “Carpenter” ruled that totalitarian style surveillance, by police and other officials, was a “search” under the Fourth Amendment, requiring probable cause of a past crime – not future crime like the movie “Minority Report”.

    The CATO Institute did a report years ago that documented that most murders and crimes worldwide were not perpetrated by citizens – but by “authoritarian practices” by governments.

    If we want to reduce police violence, police leaders need to follow written-law also, including their loyalty oath (Title 5 US Code 3331). We either have a constitutional rule of law or we don’t!

    1. “Law & Order” also means police officers, FBI, DHS, military and CIA follow the U.S. Constitution (as interpreted by the Judicial Branch courts).

      It has never meant that.

      1. And the CIA is explicitly allowed to not ‘follow the constitution’. They’re an intelligence agency acting outside the US – legal precedent says the government is not bound to recognize human rights outside the US.

        Hence the push to keep prisoners in Cuba and hidden sites across the world.

        1. This targeting is happening all over the country. I would get tickets that were never delivered until they doubled and tripled and when I told the judge she said tough luck. It’s a deliberate tactic against people being persecuted by our federal law enforcement.

        2. The CIA is indeed active in US. Fbi & cia do each other’s bidding.

  10. a concept seemingly pulled straight from the 2002 popcorn flick Minority Report

    Have you never heard of Philip K Dick?

    1. No.

  11. File a Freedom of Information Act request to any police department or any federal intelligence agency and ask the following:

    “Please provide all records of all legally binding oaths for this agency”

    Every police department and even the CIA will provide only one oath – to uphold the U.S. Constitution and protect constitutional rights of all persons (even non-citizens) on U.S. soil.

    The slogan “To Protect & Serve” is not part of the oath of office and is legally required to stay within constitutional legal boundaries (as interpreted by the Judicial Branch courts).

    When the police and federal officials ignore Law & Order, why should regular citizens respect that same “constitutional rule of law”? This is the Oath of Office they promised GOD to follow (Article VI of the U.S. Constitution and Title 5 US Code 3331).

  12. The residents of Pasco County — a nondescript, downscale county — continue to elect Chris Nocco. Judgments — verdicts, settlements — that precipitate increased taxes may be the sole language that population can understand.

    1. Yes, limited cognition. One of your intrinsic attributes.

  13. Based on the theory that a person who will break one law is a candidate to break another, I suggest we replace red light cameras with RPGs.

    1. RPG’s? Dungeons and Dragons, Gamma World, or Traveller?

      1. Try Rocket Propelled Grenade.

        1. I’ve never played that one.

          1. It’s fun, but really noisy.

          2. COMBAT obscure abbreviations/acronyms. Power to the Rest of Us!
            Or, at least, inclusion into whatever it is you’re on about.
            TYPE MORE. Please!

            1. Competitive

          3. John Malkovich plays it really, really well.

            1. OK, the squirrels thought you needed a double feature.

          4. John Malkovich plays it reay, really, well.


            (clip from RED)

      2. God one! I’m surprised someone still remembers Traveler. I still have a couple of rule books. lol

  14. There are two types of people in this world. The type who wants to be left alone and the type who won’t leave people alone.
    One guess on what type of people raise children that end up becoming cops.

  15. Predictive policing makes a lot of sense but only works if a) the laws themselves make sense (no victimless “crimes”) and b) officers are personally liable for infringing on the rights of the innocent. It’s just a fact certain kinds of people are more likely to commit crimes against their neighbors and you want to focus limited LE resources on them. But can’t be carte blanche.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.