Nocco was 35 when his predecessor retired, and former Gov. Rick Scott appointed him sheriff in 2011. He was a newly appointed major who had joined the Sheriff’s Office two years earlier. While Nocco had less law enforcement experience than his predecessor, Nocco had deep ties to Republican politics.
After his appointment, Nocco told reporters that deputies would find criminals and “take them out.” The plan was to thwart crime before it occurred. “Instead of being reactive,” he said, “we are going to be proactive.”
He touted the program when he ran for sheriff in 2012. Since then, he has built a “30-person intelligence-led policing section with a $2.8 million budget,” the Times reported. According to PCSO’s intelligence-led policing manual, 20 analysts scour police reports, property records, Facebook pages, bank statements, and surveillance photos to assist deputies investigating crimes.
Those analysts also create a list of 100 persons they deem likely to commit a crime. These “prolific offenders” are described by the manual as persons who have “taken to a career of crime” and are “not likely to reform.” PCSO created an algorithm to score offenders. Points are assessed for their criminal record, arrests where charges are dropped, or for being a suspect. Scores are “enhanced” if a person misses a court date, violates probation, or appears in a police report five or more times, even if they are listed as a witness or victim.
The analyst and command staff pick “Top 5” offenders who are deemed players in criminal networks. Then, there are “district targets,” which PCSO has enough evidence to charge with a crime. Deputies then make daily or regular visits to those offenders.
“If the offender does not feel the pressure, if the offender is not arrested when they commit their next crime, or if the offender is left to feel the punishment is menial,” the manual says, “the strategy will have no impact.”
A former PCSO deputy described the objective as: “Make their lives miserable until they move or sue.” In five years, Nocco’s program ensnared 1,000 people. Of them, around 10% were younger than 18, the Times reported.
Deputies would target offenders with “intensive monitoring.” And “[t]hey would do the same to targets’ friends, relatives and other ‘associates,’” former STAR team Cpl. Royce Rodgers told the newspaper. (STAR stands for Strategic Targeted Area Response teams.)
“Those associates might have nothing to do with the offender,” said Rodgers. But if the analysts listed them, “we’d harass them, too.” He said some targets were visited as often as five times a day.
According to Rodgers, if targets, their family members, or associates were uncooperative, deputies would then look for code enforcement violations, such as faded numbers on mailboxes or overgrown grass. “We would literally go out there and take a tape measure and measure the grass if somebody didn’t want to cooperate with us,” Rodgers said. “We’d get them one way or another.”
Rodgers recalled an incident where deputies looked into a window and saw a teenage target and his friend smoking a cigarette. Both refused to come outside, and the target’s father, Robert A. Jones III, declined to make them do so. Deputies arrested Jones for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and resisting an officer. “We couldn’t get the kids, so we arrested the dad,” said Rodgers.
The charges were dropped, but nine days later deputies arrested Jones for failing to appear at a court hearing for a code enforcement citation he said he never received. Three months later, Jones was arrested for a small amount of marijuana found in his truck and house. Those charges also were dropped. Jones ultimately moved his family to a neighboring county to avoid the harassment.
PCSO said its policy had a direct “reduction in property crime . . . and, for that, we will not apologize.” Criminal justice experts were stunned by PCSO’s practices.
“One of the worst manifestations of the intersection of junk sciences and bad policing – and an absolute absence of common sense and humanity – that I have seen in my career,” said David Kennedy, a criminologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, whose research on crime prevention is referenced in PCSO’s policies.
“Morally repugnant,” said Matthew Barge, an expert in police practices and civil rights. Nonetheless, Nocco is continuing the practice of intelligence-led policing and maybe hopes you move out of his county if you are a target.
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