Issues with the Pasco County Focused Deterrence Program

September 13, 2021 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Pasco County and the Department of Justice Bureau – Issues with the Focused Deterrence Program

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is not seeing eye to eye with the Department of Justice regarding their program “Focused Deterrence”. The intelligence program is set to receive an intensive review by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance—and they are asking for a temporary pause on the Pasco County program after finding several issues with its operation. 

The claim is that the intelligence program is not acting as it was expected to be. This was addressed in a letter from Bureau of Justice Assistant Acting Director, Kristen Mahoney, who contacted Pasco County Sheriff, Chris Nocco. In addition, there have been multiple complaints filed in the Sheriff’s Office, claiming that the program is invasive and potentially biased. Residents of the community are finding the program more hurtful than helpful.

What is the Intelligence Program?

In short, the Pasco’s Sheriff Office has built a futuristic program to stop crime in its tracks before it has even been committed. The program is set up to monitor families across the county and ensure that there is no risk of recidivism from past offenders. 

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has partnered up with the University of South Florida’s Department of Criminology to evaluate and enforce a “Focused Deterrence” program. A $700,000 grant was awarded to the Sheriff’s office and USF by the Department of Justice to assist with the program. This funding was set to help the USF Criminology doctoral students research the most effective program to reduce violent crimes, based on a 2019 study. The study claims that focused deterrence strategies are meant to combine law enforcement, community mobilization, and social services to attempt to reduce criminal behavior based on specific crime types. The program has targeted criminally active gangs, drug markets, and high-risk individual offenders. 

The intelligence system works by generating a list of people who are most likely to break the law—based on past offenses and other unspecified intelligence decisions made by law enforcement analysts. Deputies then go in and interrogate the people whose names have appeared on the generated list.

Officer Nocco has been open about the program’s goal in reducing recidivism—or the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend—by offering these high risk individuals the opportunity to take part in free social services, mental health and addiction treatment, and educational programs. 

Although the Focused Deterrence program sounds ideal in theory, there have been multiple complaints throughout its run. The program is causing public outcry over the dystopian feel of the project, claiming that it is a way for the law enforcement to harass people across the county. A Tampa Bay Times article has criticized the program, claiming it is just a way for officers to intimidate the community and invade their privacy. Community members have reported that officers have stormed into their homes in the middle of the night—often without probable cause or a warrant. The article goes into detail about different offenders who have experienced the harsh tactics of the Focused Deterrence program, specifically how one 15-year-old resident had the deputies visit his home over 20 times after already having a juvenile probation officer checking on him. 

The program was created to promote public safety while also supporting unbiased policing. It is meant to construct a stronger relationship between the community and law enforcement. This sounds ideal, considering the building tension that has occurred between officers and the public throughout the last several years. 

What is Alleged in the Complaint? 

The Bureau has announced it will complete an intensive review of the program. They want to be able to assess the activities that are being funded under the grant award. The Bureau claims that the program is not sufficiently capturing the resources and training set by the Department of Justice for the program. The Bureau insists that the supposed flaws of the program have a better chance of wearing down the trust in the community rather than strengthening it. 

According to the Bureau of Justice, these are the main issues they have with the Focused Deterrence Program: 

  • The method the department uses to identify people for inclusion.
  • The name of the program, and the communications around it. 
  • The overall lack of communication and involvement with the community concerning the program. 
  • Inadequate arrangement with law enforcement stakeholders about the program. 

What was the Response from Pasco County Sheriff’s Office? 

To put it plainly, they were confused. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office put out a statement saying that they had used the program for the last two years, working together with the Bureau. Nocco even addressed that they had previously received praise, stating that they were doing an excellent job. 

Pasco County disagrees with the Bureau’s concerns, asserting that their belief is that the Focused Deterrence Program has been properly implemented. They add that it was well-researched before launching, and that the overall response is that they are disappointed with the Bureau’s decision. 

The Sheriff’s Office also addressed the concern with the selection process of the program. Their defense is that the selection is not based on gender, race, or religion. That, instead, the program selection is solely based on each individual’s criminal history in Pasco County. 

The final assessment is that the Department of Justice Bureau and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office do not see eye to eye on the situation. Although the Sheriff’s Office believes the program is ethical and running as it should be, the Bureau clearly has opposing thoughts. It appears that the Bureau’s opinions are also backed by those of the community, who do not feel the level of enthusiasm regarding the program that Pasco County Sheriff’s Office does. While the Pasco County program is under review, the Office has been instructed to pause all the activities under the award money.

The general concept of the program is a good one, and even if there are concerns of how it’s been upheld so far does not mean it should be stopped for good. Figuring out a way to build trust between law enforcement and the public is absolutely a step in the right direction, and one that should have a lot of time and effort put into place to ensure that relationship is established.

This article was written by Karissa Key

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