A controversial intelligence program initiated by a Florida sheriff’s office has sparked outrage and Minority Report comparisons.
The Pasco Sheriff’s Office sent a four-page letter to so-called “prolific offenders” in the area, informing recipients that they would face enhanced police scrutiny.
“We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to participate in a Prolific Offender Program,” the letter, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, reads.
“You may wonder why you were enrolled in this program,” it continues. “You were selected as a result of an evaluation of your recent criminal behavior using an unbiased, evidence-based risk assessment designed to identify prolific offenders in our community.”
The sheriff’s office say they and other community partners will provide recipients assistance in order “to identify and overcome barriers that have hindered you in your life’s journey” and “help you begin a new path.”
“We will go to great efforts to encourage change in your life through enhanced support and increased accountability,” the law enforcement agency writes. “Ultimately, the goal of this program is to empower you to live a lawful, productive and fulfilled life.”
The sheriff’s office told the Times that the letter is part of a new intelligence effort aimed specifically at people whose criminal histories include drug offenses and violent crimes.
In a separate investigation in 2020, the paper reported that the agency creates lists of people it considers likely to break the law based on criminal histories, social networks and other unspecified intelligence. The publication alleged the agency then sends deputies to their homes repeatedly, often without a search warrant or probable cause for an arrest.
Another program reportedly in place used schoolchildren’s grades, attendance records and abuse histories to identify potential future criminals. However, Sheriff Chris Nocco and the Pasco County School District agreed to scale back some features of the program following public backlash.
Questions have since been raised from policing experts and those in the community who believe the new database borders on an authoritarian regime.
“Minority Report,” anyone?” The Daily Beast columnist Julia Davis tweeted.
“Someone should tell the Tampa police that Minority Report was a *dystopian* society. Not, like a prescriptive idea of how we should actually fight crime,” Raw Story reporter Matthew Chapman replied.
“Tampa police are building a tinpot police state,” another person tweeted.
An alliance of local, state and national organizations known as People Against the Surveillance of Children and Overpolicing (PASCO Coalition) strongly oppose the new program.
Raniah Elgendi, of the Council of American-Islamic Relations-Florida, said the letter is “threatening and promising a certain level of harassment and oversight” while Lauren Johnson, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said a heightened level of surveillance “is not what makes people or communities more safe.”