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© Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Wire
© Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Wire

No one should be innocent until predicted guilty.

The Sheriff’s Office of Pasco County, Florida, harasses people in their own homes using a method they call “predictive policing.” The program has unfolded like a dystopian nightmare for the Pasco County residents it has ensnared, who have been subjected to near-constant police surveillance and harassment. The Sheriff’s Office claims the program’s goal is to predict and prevent crime before it happens by targeting people they suspect may commit crimes in the future, dubbing the approach “intelligence-led policing.” This euphemism may make it seem like there’s thoughtfulness to the approach, but there’s nothing fair or smart about it.

Using a crude computer algorithm, the Sheriff’s Office creates a list of people they think are likely to commit crimes in the future. It places people on the list based on their criminal record, but also based on things that the person may not have been able to control, such as whether they have been suspected of a crime, whether they witnessed a crime or even whether they were a victim of a crime. The Sheriff’s Office calls the people on the list “prolific offenders.” Then, deputies are sent out to monitor, intimidate and harass people on the list, routinely showing up unannounced at people’s houses to interrogate them about their friends, their families and their comings and goings.

Tammy Heilman knows the cruelties of the Sheriff's program first hand. She received tickets during prolific offender checks for missing mailbox numbers and having a cinderblock in her front yard, and a $2,500 fine for having chickens in her backyard. Though many of her neighbors’ houses had similar code violations, Tammy—like many others—was targeted for enforcement because she had a family member on the prolific offender list.

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