On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Times released a multi-part investigation detailing how a Florida sheriff created a predictive algorithm to identify people who would supposedly commit crimes in the future — then sent deputies to their homes to look for excuses to fine or arrest them.
"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," reported Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi. "The department created a 30-person intelligence department and devised an algorithm to predict who was likely to commit crimes in the future. But the machine Nocco built has turned into a system of organized harassment. Deputies swarm homes in the middle of the night. They write tickets for missing mailbox numbers and overgrown grass. They come again and again, making arrests for any reason they can."
One of the people caught up in this system was 15-year-old Rio Wojtecki, who was identified as a future crime risk for stealing motorized bicycles.
"Those were the only charges against Rio, and he already had a state-issued juvenile probation officer checking on him. Yet from September 2019 to January 2020, Pasco Sheriff’s deputies went to his home at least 21 times, dispatch logs show," said the report. "They showed up at the car dealership where his mom worked, looked for him at a friend’s house and checked his gym to see if he had signed in." Even after acknowledging he wasn't getting in trouble or doing anything suspicious, they continued to harass him.
In another case, said the report, "Deputies gave the mother of one teenage target a $2,500 fine because she had five chickens in her backyard. They arrested another target’s father after peering through a window in his house and noticing a 17-year-old friend of his son smoking a cigarette inside. As they make checks, deputies feed information back into the system, not just on the people they target, but on family members, friends and anyone else in the target’s orbit."
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office stands behind this system, denying any of this is improper and claiming the checks are "basic law enforcement functions." However, the Times gathered body camera footage from deputies who made these visits, showing officers threatening people who were doing nothing wrong.