Florida Sheriff’s Office Sharply Criticized for Sending Letters to Some County Residents Alerting Them They’re Under Surveillance: ‘That Is Not What Makes Communities Safe’

A Florida sheriff’s office has doubled down on the decision to send letters to residents identified as “prolific offenders,” notifying them that they have been enrolled in a program intended to prevent them from committing crimes in the future.

The four-page letter sent to residents by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, begins with the phrase “We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected,” The Tampa Bay Times reported. However, the letter’s tone quickly becomes ominous when it is revealed it is a notification that the recipient will be be subjected to enhanced police scrutiny under a controversial intelligence initiative.

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco (passcosheriff.com)

According to Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, the sheriff’s office, in conjunction with the Department of Justice Strategies for Policing Innovation Initiative, have relied on “unbiased, evidence-based risk assessment designed to identify prolific offenders.”

The letter goes on to say,  “As a result of this designation, we will go to great efforts to encourage change in your life through enhanced support and increased accountability.”

If recipients of the letter refrain from criminal activity for the next two years, they will be removed from the program, the letter explains.

“It is our hope you will actively pursue change by seeking and participating in the services and support you will have access to. … Although help is available, you are the one who must decide whether or not you will pursue change and accept the help being offered.”

On Monday, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office defended the program while speaking to Fox News.

“This type of academic research effort, through focused deterrence, has been well established and documented to reduce crimes in communities,” Pasco Sheriff’s Office Executive Director Chase Daniels said.

The program targets adult violent and narcotics prolific offenders. It was scheduled to launch in mid-2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic and didn’t begin until December. The letters also notified participants that their criminal history will be shared with local, state and federal law enforcement entities and prosecutors, including the local state attorney’s office, the U.S. attorney’s office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Parole and Probation, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the ATF, the DEA, and other agencies with “the ability to ensure the highest level of accountability for all current and future criminal acts you commit.”

The letter also informs participants that the sheriff’s office is willing to offer support for those dealing with mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness or employment difficulties.

The Tampa Bay Times reported last year that an investigation had uncovered that the sheriff’s office uses criminal histories, social networks, other information in order to create lists of people it considers likely to break the law. The investigation showed that deputies were sent to various homes, often without a search warrant or probable cause.

According to Sheriff’s Office Capt. Toni Roach, being selected is “good news” because participants will “have the opportunity to receive assistance from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and several community partners.”

But according to Lauren Johnson, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the program won’t be beneficial.

“We know that is not what makes people or communities more safe, this heightened level of surveillance,” she said.

Four Pasco County residents sued Nocco in March in federal court, claiming his intelligence program violated their constitutional rights.

“The goal here is to shut this program down and to make sure it stops, both for these clients and everybody in Pasco County,” said Robert Johnson, an attorney with the libertarian nonprofit law firm the Institute for Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs.

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