Read the Pasco Sheriff’s Office response to our investigation
The Tampa Bay Times started reporting on the Pasco Sheriff’s Office intelligence-led policing program in late 2019. We asked the department for an opportunity to discuss the program at that time, but the Sheriff’s Office declined.
In July 2020, we began presenting our findings to the office and asked again, repeatedly, to discuss our reporting with Sheriff Chris Nocco and his director of intelligence-led policing, Larry Kraus. Through a spokeswoman, they declined.
The Sheriff’s Office instead answered two sets of written questions and responded to summaries of the Times’ reporting in two memos. The responses, which totaled more than 30 pages, vigorously defended the intelligence-led policing program, accused the Times of bias and included detailed information about the criminal records of people featured in our investigation.
Excerpts from the agency’s response, organized by topic, are below.
At times the Sheriff’s Office quotes from some of the earlier summaries of our reporting. Our understanding of the program continued to evolve after those summaries were composed, informed by additional reporting and the information the agency provided. As a result, some of the information here may differ from what we ultimately published.
At the bottom of the page, we also embedded copies of the full correspondence from the agency. In those files, we redacted the names of people targeted by the program whom we did not name in our investigation. Most are minors whose family members were harassed as a result of the intelligence-led policing program. We added annotations to identify the family members referenced in the story.
The initial response from the Sheriff’s Office also incorrectly stated that a relative of one teenager profiled by the Times had overdosed on drugs. The department later said it had meant to reference a family member of another target. We redacted identifying information in both cases.
On the program’s effectiveness
In its first memo to the Times, the Sheriff’s Office said the program had reduced overall property crime since 2011.
We again would like to reiterate our firm stance that Intelligence Led Policing has worked to reduce property crimes in Pasco County and continues to work in agencies in our area that also use this model such as Hillsborough County. This success is documented in the below chart that shows a decrease in property crimes from 2011 (when Sheriff Nocco first became Sheriff) through 2019 (the most recent data available) as reported by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.
This reduction in property crimes includes a 74.4% reduction in residential burglaries and a 20.7% reduction in auto thefts, along with an overall reduction of property crimes of 35.6%. It is also important to note that these reductions in crime run counter to our growing population in Pasco County (as reported by the United States Census Bureau, the population of Pasco County has grown by 89,242 people from April 1, 2010 through July 1, 2019, data is available at this link: https://www.census.gov/data/datasets/time-series/demo/popest/2010s-counties-total.html).
This reduction in property crime has a direct, positive impact on the lives of the citizens of Pasco County and, for that, we will not apologize.
A Times review of the same state law enforcement data found that property crime across the eight largest law enforcement agencies in the Tampa Bay area had declined at similar rates. We also found that violent crime had increased only in the Pasco Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction.
The Sheriff’s Office disputed those findings. It said that many of the nearby law enforcement agencies also use a similar policing philosophy so the widespread reduction in property crime could be attributed to the intelligence-driven model.
With the Times asserting that this similar drop in crime is seen across the Tampa Bay area, it would be remiss not to identify how many of these agencies in the immediate area use the ILP philosophy (while we cannot speak to the specifics of their program, it is important to provide context to additional agencies that have ILP philosophies in our immediate vicinity):
- Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (source previously provided)
- Tampa Police Department (source: https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/tampa-police-department-intelligence-led-policing-dramatically-reduces-crime/)
- Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office (source: https://www.pcsoweb.com/internship-program, internships available in the Intelligence-Led Policing Division)
- St. Petersburg Police Department (source: https://police.stpete.org/ilp-unit/index.html)
These agencies are a sampling in the immediate area of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office of agencies that employ the ILP philosophy. Furthermore, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office has partnered with several of the agencies listed above. These partnerships include a joint training at the inception of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office’s program with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, and the Pasco Sheriff’s Office also hosted senior leadership from the Tampa Police Department to observe and model how the Pasco Sheriff’s Office conducts our ILP program.
However, the Times assertion that the drop in property crimes “match the overall trend across the Tampa Bay area” seems to indicate that the ILP philosophy is a success based on widespread use of the philosophy, and the Times’ own assertion that property crimes are, in fact, declining in the region.
The Times reached out to each of those agencies. The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office said it identifies prolific offenders and sometimes checks on them. The Pinellas Sheriff’s Office, Tampa Police Department, St. Petersburg Police Department and Clearwater Police Department said that they do not use predictive analytics or algorithms to identify priority offenders. Some are part of a joint program that monitors young people on home detention, which is described in our story.
The Times also found that there has been a significant decline in property crime across the state.
The agency noted that the population in Pasco County has increased over time. It touted its clearance rate and attributed some of the increase in violent crimes to its success encouraging better reporting of rape.
Moreover, while there may be an increase in the number of violent cases, it is important to note the data regarding the crime rate per 100,000 citizens as reported by FDLE, and an analysis of this data is below. As the Times was previously provided, our population continues to grow and an analysis from 2016 to the present finds:
■ 2016 violent crime: 1,653 cases
■ 2019 violent crime: 1,693 cases according to FDLE, which is a 2.42% increase in sheer case volume from 2016
■ 2016 population of Pasco County: 509,937
■ 2019 population of Pasco County: 553,947, which is an 8.63% population growth in Pasco County from 2016 according to the US Census Bureau
■ 2016 violent crime rate: 333.4 per 100,000 citizens
■ 2019 violent crime rate: 321.2 per 100,000 citizens according to FDLE
Therefore, while the number of violent crime cases has increased in sheer numbers, our overall violent crime rate per 100,000 citizens has declined by 3.66% from 2016 to 2019, according to FDLE.
The Times found that when looking from 2011 to 2019, violent crime per 100,000 residents increased by 8 percent. In the other seven largest Tampa Bay agencies, violent crime per 100,000 residents decreased between 14 and 55 percent.
Presented with this, the Sheriff’s Office provided additional statistics. Its numbers differ from ours because the agency used county-wide crime rates, rather than rates provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that apply to each agency’s jurisdiction. That data still showed an increase in violent crime per capita.
Regarding the Times’ reporting on violent crime rates, in 2011, our violent crime rate was 308.9 per 100,000 citizens, with 1,441 offenses. In 2019, our violent crime rate was 321.2 per 100,000 citizens with 1,693 offenses. This is an increase of 3.98% in violent crime rate (321.2 per 100,000 to 308.9 per 100,000) citizens while our population during that same time period has increased from 466,533 to 527,122 (an increase of 12.98%).
Furthermore, by focusing only on the violent crime rate, the Times continues to ignore the fantastic work done in regards to property crimes. As previously provided to the Times, our residential burglaries, for example, are down over 74% since the implementation of the ILP philosophy.
Finally, as was previously stated in our responses to the Times, we will not apologize for directly improving the lives of Pasco’s citizens through the reduction of thousands of residential burglaries.
The Sheriff’s Office also touted the program’s role in a recent drug bust.
* Also, it is important to note that ILP analysts do more than just work on residential or violent crimes. Instead they are tied into the very fabric of our agency. For example, ILP analysts recent- ly played a significant part in a string of drug arrests that lead to 435,000 lethal doses of fentanyl removed from Pasco County’s streets
On whether the Sheriff’s Office’s practices constitute harassment
The Sheriff’s Office strongly disputed that its program constituted harassment.
It also seems, based on the reporting provided so far by the Times, that basic law enforcement functions such as attempting to locate a suspect in a crime, conducting probation checks and arresting an individual for committing a crime all seem to be painted as “harassment” at the hands of the Intelligence Led Policing philosophy. This assertion could not be further from the truth but, instead, shows an agency proactively attempting to solve and address crime in our community without regard to bias such as age, gender or race but instead through a fact based program focused on those who commit crimes.
In its second memo, the agency continued:
The Times continues to assert that the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is “harassing” individuals, yet continues to ignore that their inclusion on these lists in the first place is based on lengthy criminal histories, details of which were previously provided to the Times.
In fact, in the current environment around our country, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is quite proud that we were ahead of the curve and introduced a system nine years ago that avoids any type of perceived bias. Again, to reiterate and as was provided to the Times in numerous responses, the ILP system removes any opportunity for bias by removing descriptive features and focuses strictly on the criminal history of the individual, regardless of their race, gender, creed or any other identifying factors. We are surprised to see a system that is blind to anything but the criminal history of an individual is under attack, instead of being celebrated as an important step forward in our country.
The agency added that the code enforcement citations were normal and important law enforcement functions.
The Times also states that “seven people subjected to these checks told us they received or were threatened with code citations” out of “more than 12,000 prolific offender checks.” First and foremost, code issues and quality of life issues are major factors in Pasco County and as such, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office would direct you to the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners’ creation of the “High Return Enforcement” program. As recently as Friday, August 21st, Pasco County demolished a problematic house in Gulf Highlands due to continued code violations, both by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and County Code Enforcement. To imply that code issues are merely used for “harassment” is inaccurate and, again, shows a fundamental lack of understanding about Pasco County and the issues in this community. A simple review of any Board of County Commissioners meeting would show the gravity of code complaints in our county, and we are proud of the partnership that we have with Pasco County Code Enforcement to work hand-in-hand to bring resolutions to these issues and improve the quality of life for our citizens.
Again, though code complaints are serious quality of life issues, and more specifically, a major issue in Pasco County, we would note that the Times spoke with seven people out of 12,000 prolific offender checks that complained (.06% of prolific offender checks reviewed by the Times), and suggest that this is a case of selection bias. It is important to note that these are individuals with significant criminal histories, and perhaps there is reason on their behalf to attempt to discredit the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, instead of facing their own criminal actions, which has required this reaction from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. Once again, this was also previously provided to the Times.
The agency misrepresented the figures here. The 12,000 checks are not on 12,000 individual addresses or people. About 200 addresses were visited more than 10 times. We visited dozens of the most checked-on addresses and interviewed 24 families for the story.
On people targeted by the department who were featured in the story
We also presented our reporting on specific families who the program targeted. In its response, the department went into detail about each person’s arrest history. In some cases, the agency also provided information about a teenager’s personal history. The agency added:
The comments we offer on individuals below is not something we desire to do as part of this program and is ONLY offered after this specific request from the Tampa Bay Times. Please note that we do not offer comment on ANY other individuals besides those that the Tampa Bay Times specifically asked about and those with whom they are associated in a desire to provide full information.
The department defended its targeting of Rio Wojtecki.
Regarding Rio Wojtecki, who the Times reports was listed as on a Top 5 list when he was 15, we can confirm this based on his prior arrest on December 6, 2018 for charges of both business burglary and burglary dwelling and for additional reasons described below. Again, these are “Big Four” offenses which we are actively working to address in our community to better protect and serve our citizens.
Mr. Wojtecki was made a District 3 Top 5 due to this prior “Big Four” arrest but also due to his ongoing criminal network and associations. Mr. Wojtecki was in a confirmed criminal network with previous Top 5 individuals, and he is still, to this day, associating with numerous individuals who have “Big Four” arrest histories and are documented gang members.
Mr. Wojtecki has been arrested two times in Pasco County and has a total of three charges (burglary business, burglary dwelling and battery).
We told the agency that Rio had denied being in a gang. The agency replied:
While we are limited in the information we can provide as it is active criminal intelligence, we do refute the Times’ assertion that Mr. Wojtecki is not an active gang member. While we cannot provide the information as it is active criminal intelligence, we dispute this assertion in the strongest possible terms.
The Times pointed out that, according to body-camera footage, deputies told Rio he only had one minor offense and he just needed to stop hanging out with teenagers who were breaking the law. We asked the agency to provide any additional information about the source of its assertion. It declined.
Regarding the visits to the Smith family:
[The Smiths’ son] has been arrested three times in Pasco County, twice for burglary auto and once for burglary dwelling and has 17 total charges in Pasco County.
Sheila Smith said her son had only been in trouble twice. State criminal history records show only two arrests. The Sheriff’s Office did not explain the discrepancy between its data and the state’s.
The department also acknowledged that deputies mistakenly detained Vaughn Smith Sr. while looking for his brother.
The Times’ also asserts that [the target]’s father, Vaughn Smith, Sr., was once held in the back of a patrol car. It appears that this incident occurred in May of 2019 when the Pasco Sheriff’s Office was looking for [the brother], Vaughn Smith, Sr.’s brother, not [the target], as the Times seems to assert. Vaughn Smith, Sr. and [the brother] look alike and this was explained to Vaughn Smith, Sr. at that time, and the deputy apologized for the confusion. Again, this incident had nothing to do with a Prolific Offender check or the ILP program but was, instead, in an attempt to solve a crime by locating [the brother].
Vaughn Smith Sr. said he had no prior criminal history. He told the Times he was questioned about his son, one of the program’s targets, before he was detained.
On the woman who for days was watched and questioned because her boyfriend was a target:
The Top 5 is focused on those for whom the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is actively searching, based on actionable intelligence and criminal histories, to include active probable cause affidavits. Therefore, it is not surprising that deputies would speak to [the woman] regarding the whereabouts of her boyfriend, for whom we were actively looking. As the Times itself notes, the questioning of [the woman] stopped once it was clear she was no longer associated with her boyfriend, providing proof that the system works as intended and, instead of “harassment,” as the Times alleges, the questioning discontinues once the actionable intelligence involving an individual is no longer actionable.
On Dalanea Taylor, who continued being targeted after she was released from prison:
Ms. Taylor has been arrested 14 times in Pasco County, beginning first on August 1, 2012 for an auto burglary and has a total of 55 charges in Pasco County including numerous burglary autos, grand theft, armed burglary, firearm theft and dozens of other charges. This amount of charges, which continued over a period of at least four years from 2012 until 2016, explain her continued presence on the Prolific Offender list. As previously provided to the Times in response to questions, this list is reviewed quarterly and it can take offenders periods of no criminal activity before they can move off of the list, especially when an individual has 55 charges, most related to “Big Four” activities.
Regarding Robert Jones, who was harassed because his son was a Sheriff’s Office target:
[Jones’ son] has nine cases for which he was arrested during the time period of June 4, 2015 and April 7, 2016. Again, we will not apologize for addressing an individual who committed nine crimes during a time period of less than a year. Regarding the specific allegations by former Cpl. Rodgers, we again stress that, if proper procedures and policies were not followed, those are solely his responsibility and, based on his previous history with the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, something that was addressed when he was removed from the agency and held accountable for his actions.
The Sheriff’s Office pointed out that two of Tammy Heilman’s children were identified as targets and said one had been arrested 20 times in Pasco county. It added that Heilman was arrested because one of her other children wasn’t wearing a seat belt.
For this reason which is, again, separate from the ILP or Prolific Offender checks, Ms. Heilman was stopped and, during this stop, she failed to comply with lawful orders. The Pasco Sheriff’s Office would again assert that the Times’ reporting fails to note the facts in this incident, specifically that Ms. Heilman broke the law by failing to secure her child properly before operating her motor vehicle, which placed her child in danger and required a reaction from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.
Heilman told the Times her daughter was wearing a seat belt, which she took off only when a deputy opened the car door and the two adults began yelling.
On Da’Marion Allen, the 14-year-old with developmental disabilities whose grandmother was arrested:
Da’Marion Allen has a record of arrests in 13 different cases. As previously noted to the Times in this memo, would the Times suggest that an individual who was arrested in 13 different cases not warrant increased attention to ensure that reoffending ceases, thereby bettering the quality of life for our community?
On Jahheen Winters, the 13-year-old who has autism and post-traumatic stress disorder:
Regarding Jahheen Winters, he was first added to the Prolific Offender list on October 1, 2019. By this point, Mr. Winters had been arrested five times in Pasco, including for two burglary dwellings, a vehicle theft, and two domestic batteries, one of which was also charged as an aggravated assault. During this period, from his first arrest on July 22, 2018 until he was added to the Prolific Offender list, Mr. Winters had eight charges in Pasco County.
Regarding Matthew Lott, the teenager who died by suicide, the Sheriff’s Office said:
To begin, we first address the Times’ reporting regarding Matthew Lott. As part of the request, the Times states that the Pasco Sheriff’s Office conducted two dozen (24) prolific offender checks on Matthew Lott in the first half of 2017. We can confirm this number, however, it is important to note that our first contact with Mr. Lott was on February 8, 2016 when he was reported as a Missing Person/Runaway to our agency after he had skipped school that day. In addition, Mr. Lott was also given a curfew warning on March 13, 2016.
Shortly after that curfew warning, on July 25, 2016, Mr. Lott was arrested for the burglary of a residence, which resulted in him being added as a prolific offender, since a residential burglary is one of the “Big Four” crimes. Mr. Lott was arrested eight additional times after this initial arrest, with 27 charges in Pasco County to include the aforementioned residential burglary, an armed burglary of an automobile, an additional burglary of an occupied dwelling, and nine additional counts of burglary auto on July 16, 2017. Despite our best efforts with providing resources, Mr. Lott continued to offend.
The agency added:
It is irresponsible of the Times to assert that this was in any way associated with the Prolific Offender list or Intelligence Led Policing and demonstrates a bias against law enforcement, we would encourage the Times to paint the entire picture instead of solely focusing on law enforcement interactions caused by a result of Mr. Lott’s actions.
The department stated that one of Lott’s family members had overdosed in the past, which proves “there were other issues ongoing in Mr. Lott’s life.” We asked for documentation or police reports on the overdose. The department said this was a “misstatement” and that it was the family member of another target who had overdosed.
On the former Sheriff’s Office employees named in the story
The Sheriff’s Office also noted that some of the former deputies who were interviewed for this story are involved in a lawsuit against the agency. The lawsuit alleges that they were wrongfully fired or forced to resign. The office described them as disgruntled employees with a history of problems.
The same can be said regarding the sources on which the Times is relying: namely former Lt. Chris Starnes, former Cpl. Royce Rogers, and former Capt. James Steffens. As the Times correctly notes, these individuals are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and we wholly reject their arguments and have been successful, thus far, in the court proceedings, which remain ongoing. Perhaps the Times is, again, guilty of selection bias in the sources they use, as these sources, who are disgruntled former employees, have reasons to attempt to discredit the Pasco Sheriff’s Office with erroneous information, much like those with a lengthy criminal history.
For example, in the Times’ memo, former Cpl. Rodgers is quoted as saying that “the teams did not always log prolific offender checks in the official record” which we greatly appreciate the Times bringing to our attention. This is an absolute violation of our policies which is being immediately referred to our Internal Affairs section.
Of course, it should not be surprising based on former Cpl. Rodgers’ member activity report, where he has numerous violations of our policies and procedures including insubordination, failure to properly process property and evidence, failure to properly search a vehicle and also failing to properly search an individual and then attempting to blame a less tenured deputy for his own failures, in that regard.
The Pasco Sheriff’s Office contends that these failures in following proper policies and procedures are exactly why former Cpl. Rodgers is no longer employed with the agency and, unfortunately, we are not surprised to read in your memo more evidence of his wrongdoing and failure to follow proper policies and procedures. As noted, we will be sending this information to our Internal Affairs Section.
The same can be said for both former Lt. Starnes and former Capt. Steffens. Specifically, as the Sheriff noted in his press conference announcing former Capt. Steffens’ resignation, Capt. Steffens failed to properly lead and supervise his district and additionally failed to follow proper policies and procedures when presented with possible criminal actions by a member under his command. Based on the history of a failure to lead, it is not surprising that former Capt. Steffens is alleging policies and procedures were not followed when, as the leader of a district, he was the one tasked with making sure they were, in fact, followed.
These issues are exactly why former Capt. Steffens is no longer with the agency and we appreciate the Times highlighting these facts, and look forward to continuing to defend against frivolous lawsuits and allegations in the proper venue. As the Times itself notes in their memo, there was a serious failure to lead and that is exactly why these members are now former members. Failure to lead and follow processes and procedures is regarded with the utmost seriousness, and often leads to necessary changes, including members being removed from their positions. We stand by our history of holding our members accountable for their actions.
It is disappointing to see that, while the Times continues to rightfully ask for increased transparency and accountability in law enforcement, they in turn utilize and rely on the accounts of those same former, disgruntled members, who were held accountable by an agency, as “reliable sources,” even as they provide false and misleading information to a reporter.
On the program’s mechanics
On the different types of targets within the intelligence-led policing program:
To continue, the Times also states that “Neither the 2016 nor the 2018 manual describes a criteria for selecting either category of targets” (referring to Top 5 offenders and district targets). The Pasco Sheriff’s Office points back to the responses provided to the Times in the memo dated July 31, 2020, which stated:
“We suspect, as well, that this misunderstanding and the fact that the Times constantly includes the Top 5 list and the Prolific Offender list together, despite the fact that the Times has been told in previous answers to questions these are separate programs, leads to a misunderstanding of facts.”
Again, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office must point out that the Top 5 list and District Targets are completely separate from the Prolific Offender program. The fact the Times continues to not address this and report as if they are the same, casts the remainder of this reporting in doubt, as it represents a basic misunderstanding of the Prolific Offender program.
On the records used by analysts to create internal reports:
The Times yet again leans on incorrect information from “sources”, who are addressed later in this memo. The Times states that “analysts mine police reports, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, and use facial recognition and bank statements to create reports.” Let us be abundantly clear; only police reports, recent releases from the Land O’Lakes Detention Center and gang member information are used to identify prolific offenders. This information has been continually provided to the Times, yet the Times continues to report incorrect information, casting the rest of this reporting in doubt.
Instead, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, facial recognition (the Pasco Sheriff’s Office utilizes the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office FACES program) and bank statements are only used to investigate crimes or locate missing individuals. As a recent example, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office utilized social media platforms last week to locate a missing, endangered juvenile in the Wesley Chapel area. The Pasco Sheriff’s Office would strongly encourage the Tampa Bay Times to evaluate its sources thoroughly, as well as the information these sources provide, as it continues to be factually inaccurate, evidence of which was continually provided to the Times in these memos and in the responses to your questions.
This information comes directly from the agency’s intelligence-led policing manual.
On how people are selected as “prolific offenders” by an algorithm:
In addition, as the Times was previously provided, analysts do not add points to any prolific offender. Instead, that is done by the algorithm which is faceless, nameless and removes any and all identifying features of an individual, including age, and only focuses on their criminal history. Again, analysts may manually review these computer-generated lists and exclude individuals from it, based on criteria which was previously provided but, put plainly, at no point do analysts assess additional points to any individual for any reason.
As was previously provided to the Times, district analysts must assign the prolific offender designation for an individual after review of the scores generated through the algorithm. Contrary to what the Times seems to believe, the computer does not assign the tag, and only a handful of the people that meet the scoring criteria are assigned the Prolific Offender tag and that is only after a thorough review by a district analyst that considers the individual’s impact on the crime environment in that district.
On internal reviews of the program
We asked the Sheriff’s Office if it had a formal internal audit process to ensure the program wasn’t targeting anyone improperly.
We do have an internal audit and review process to ensure everyone on the current prolific list is in fact, by definition, a prolific offender. Each quarter a new list of prolific offenders is created by our strategic analyst. The list is then reviewed by our district analysts – who are subject matter experts in each district and are very familiar with their repeat and focused offenders – the analysts then review the list of prolific offenders to ensure the names provided should be included in the current list. The analysts are subject matter experts in their district, they read hundreds of reports on a daily basis, they interact with deputies and District Commanders to ensure they have an increased understanding of the crime environment and who is affecting this environment.
We then made a request for copies of these audits and reviews. The agency clarified that this isn’t a formal review.
There are no documents nor is this a written review. Instead, as previously provided to the Times, these are analytical reviews by the ILP analysts assigned to each District. The analysts, after receiving the scored list, perform a manual review of each offender to ensure criteria are met and assign the prolific offender tag only to those offenders that are actively impacting the crime environment in Pasco County. If the analysts believe someone does not qualify, they will not be assigned as a focus.
On experts who helped develop the program
We asked the department how the program was originally developed.
The first list of prolific offenders was produced around October 2015 using data that was available through our existing RMS/JMS systems and in concert with the recommendations of Dr. Jerry Ratcliffe who we continue to partner with on this program, and in partnership with the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office who began using ILP before our agency.
After this response, we spoke to Ratcliffe, who denies continued involvement with the Pasco Sheriff’s program. He said he only provided some training in 2013. We asked the Sheriff’s Office to provide details about Ratcliffe’s involvement.
Dr. Ratcliffe’s books are recommended reading for all agency members and are part of the required reading for the certified member promotional process. In addition, several of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office policing strategies are founded in principles from his research and books.
Further, Pasco Sheriff’s Office Captain Justin Ross contributed a segment to Dr. Ratcliffe’s recent book (originally published July 31, 2018) Reducing Crime: A Companion for Police Leaders (this link features all of those who provided segments to the book and includes Captain Ross, noting he is a previous Director of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office’s Intelligence-Led Policing Section: https://www.reducingcrime.com/vignette-authors), along with acknowledgements in that book being given to PSO members Major Jeff Peake, Captain Mike Jenkins and Major Tait Sanborn.
In addition, several of PSO’s commanders and analysts attended a January 2020 training of Dr. Ratcliffe’s in St. Petersburg.
The Times’ assertion that there has been no contact with Dr. Ratcliffe “in years and years” is factually inaccurate, as the Times was already provided, and continuing to report such information as fact is irresponsible and inaccurate.
On juveniles being targeted
The department also commented on our reporting that showed juveniles were an outsized priority for the department. They referred to research and a Times series from 2017 that showed teenagers made up a large share of motor vehicle theft arrests in Pinellas County.
Regarding the other, general assertions that the Times makes, specifically that juveniles are a high proportion of the Prolific Offender list, we would point the Times to several studies, including several conducted by the Times itself, that find that juvenile offenders are disproportionately committing property crimes such as burglary auto and auto theft, which are among the “Big Four” crimes which we continue to work in our community.
Just a small sample of reporting on this is documented below:
■ https://www.tampabay.com/news/pinellas/2019/10/29/juvenile-auto-thieves-still-plague-pinellas- county/
■ https://www.tampabay.com/opinion/2020/02/14/is-st-petersburg-moving-closer-to-solving-the- juvenile-auto-theft-crisis-editorial/
With so much attention paid to this, with the Times even going so far as to call auto thefts by teenagers in our neighboring Pinellas County an “epidemic” and a “crisis,” it is incredibly disappointing to now find the Times suggesting that people who commit these crimes should not be addressed, and that this issue does not deserve focus but is instead just “harassment” by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. Instead, as the Times should well know based on previous reporting, this is an attempt to proactively address a very serious issue in our community and in communities throughout the Tampa Bay area as many of these same individuals offend in other jurisdictions throughout Tampa Bay.
The Sheriff’s Office provided data and articles about Pinellas County, but none on Pasco County. Juveniles made up about 52 percent of motor vehicle theft arrests in Pinellas in the past five years, but 28 percent in Pasco.
We also asked if deputies received training in best practices to interact with juveniles. The Sheriff’s Office said:
Our deputies are trained to interact with the public, in addition, we have specially trained School Resource Officers who are trained in dealing with juveniles, especially those who are in school. Often times, they serve as a prevention model to ensure juvenile prolific offenders are engaged on multiple levels to encourage a behavioral change to reduce the possibility of becoming an adult offender. The deputies also engage with the juvenile’s parents to determine if additional resources are needed for the family or the juvenile. In addition, we have a youth diversion program which provides additional resources and an opportunity to avoid having a criminal history upon completion of the youth diversion program.
We asked what resources are provided to families who are targeted by the program. The Sheriff’s Office said deputies are told to give the families a palm-sized card that lists local nonprofits, health care providers and government agencies. It attached a copy of the card.
This program provides needed resources to individuals as part of information physically handed to them during prolific offender checks (a copy of that document is attached at the conclusion of this memo for review) and serves to protect our community through the reduction of crime and recidivism.
On the Times’ previous coverage of similar policing programs
The Sheriff’s Office identified two previous articles in the Times — both published in 2010 — that reported on intelligence-led policing successes in other jurisdictions.
As a reminder, we were not the first agency in the area to use ILP, nor are we the only agency in the area to use this policing philosophy.
This fact has been previously provided to the Times in these memos, but we also wish to highlight the Times’ own reporting on this issue, from 2010, a year before we implemented our ILP philosophy: https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2010/04/09/predicting-worst-offenders-next-moves/.
In this article, the Times notes a success story regarding an arrest where the subject “identified Ester (the subject) as a convicted burglar likely to commit such a crime, so they followed him for two days before catching him in the act.” The reporting continues by noting that “Ester’s was one of dozens of arrests made through a new emphasis on intelligence-led policing” with former Sheriff David Gee noting to the Times that “‘We were actually able to intervene on crimes in progress” and noting that serious crime in unincorporated Hillsborough County “had dropped more than 10 percent in 2009.”
As the Times rightfully notes in their reporting on the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office ILP philosophy, “With intelligence-led policing, investigators look for patterns in crime and try to intercept the 6 percent of criminals who commit 60 percent of crimes.” These patterns are identified, as the Times notes in their own reporting, in “many forms: Rashes of burglaries. Addresses and habits of ex-convicts. Nuggets in deputies’ reports, such as a car that turns up at the scenes of multiple crimes. Pawnshop tickets. Postings to MySpace and YouTube. Observations from other county employees, like code enforcement inspectors, who notice things.”
The Times further notes in their reporting that “it works” and “has led deputies to a marijuana grow house in the Baycrest neighborhood in Town ’N Country, a trio of copper thieves in Seffner and a Town ’N Country ring that stole more than $100,000 through the use of cloned cell phones.” It is encouraging to see the Times recognizing that our predecessor in ILP, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, experienced these success stories. The Pasco Sheriff’s Office would appreciate the same type of coverage on success stories we have experienced. However the Times has consistently refused to cover stories involving the Pasco Sheriff’s Office which demonstrate these successes, such as the role ILP played in removing more than 435,000 lethal doses of fentanyl off of Pasco’s streets, a success story that was provided to the Times in our last memo and also to numerous Times reporters by our Public Information Office.
The Times continues with their reporting on the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office ILP philosophy in that same 2010 article when the reporter spoke to the “architect of this new approach,” Col. Albert Frost. Col. Frost told the Times in April 2010 that “After seeing crime go up even as deputies made lots of arrests and wrote lots of tickets, Frost said he told deputies he didn’t care how many tickets they wrote. What he wanted them to know and focus on was who were the worst criminals in their zones.” This mirrors exactly the information that the Pasco Sheriff’s Office has repeatedly provided to the Tampa Bay Times in these memos and in response to questions.
The Times also notes, again, how this philosophy worked in Hillsborough County. “After six months of the new approach, crime in District 3 dropped 18 percent. The next closest district saw a drop of 2 percent. ‘We realized this can’t be luck,’ Frost said.” The Times also notes that the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office “reorganized its patrol operations to hold deputies accountable for what happens in their zones,” much like the Pasco Sheriff’s Office did as we held members accountable. These are now the same members who are considered “reliable sources” for the Times.
However, it is not just the one article highlighted above that demonstrates the Times’ previous reporting on the ILP philosophy. In fact, eight months later, the Times wrote a follow up article on the successes the ILP philosophy had already brought to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office: https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2010/12/24/crime-rates-fall-as-agencyfocuses-on-worst-10-percent/
As noted by the Times in this article on the success the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office experienced when they implemented the ILP philosophy, “Serious crime in unincorporated Hillsborough County dropped 15 percent during the first 11 months of 2010 and is down nearly 25 percent over two years.” The Times also found that “Much of the reduction comes from the expansion of an effort to target the small percentage of offenders - less than 10 percent - who commit most of the crimes.”
As described by the Times, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office ILP philosophy featured “detectives, crime analysts, gang experts and other specialists analyze the huge volume of reports generated by the Sheriff's Office, plus other data: files on known offenders and their habits, tips from the public and county employees, pawn shop tickets, criminals' postings to social networks like MySpace, intelligence from informers and information from jail inmates.”
The Times also notes the goals of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office ILP philosophy as “The goal is to spot patterns early and give deputies fresh information to guide their strategies - watch for break-ins on this street, look out for this guy suspected of holding up convenience stores” while noting a weakness in law enforcement, “‘What's always been the weakness in law enforcement is we get a lot of intelligence, but the hard part is how do you put it all together?" Sheriff David Gee said. "How do you efficiently use that information? That's what we've been trying to do.’”
In the same article, the Times notes several successes of this philosophy, stating the ILP philosophy “has led to the arrests of thieves who targeted copper tubing and wiring and appliances from foreclosed or abandoned homes, as well as one man who tried to entice underage girls into his pickup truck, another behind a home invasion and a group that stole more than $100,000 through the use of cloned cell phones.”
However, the Times also notes the success that the Tampa Police Department was having with a similar model: “In Tampa, police have had their own success, reducing city crime 56 percent in seven years largely by focusing on four key crimes: burglary, robbery, auto burglary and auto theft.” The Tampa Police Department also noted that “The thieves who commit those four crimes also commit more violent crimes, police say, so catching them creates a "powerful ripple effect" on the overall crime rate” and, in January of 2010, “Tampa police created dozens of "rapid offender control" squads that team up undercover officers and narcotics investigators.”
The Pasco Sheriff’s Office could not summarize it any more succinctly than Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Frank Cruze did to the Times in this 2010 article, “‘If their job is to be a criminal, and they know we're after them, they're either going to have to quit their job or we're going to catch them or they're going to move. Any of those three is fine with us because it's going to reduce crime.’”
These successes, as documented by the Times’ own reporting, are exactly why the Pasco Sheriff’s Office partnered with and received training from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office as we implemented our own ILP philosophy in 2011, information that has been previously provided to the Tampa Bay Times.
The question becomes, then, why has the Times changed its reporting from praising this philosophy and the successes it brings by referring to this philosophy as “child abuse, mafia harassment and surveillance that could be expected under an authoritarian regime” as outlined in previous memos provided to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office? We are curious what has caused this complete reverse of opinion. Is it possible that, again, the selection bias of a few disgruntled individuals has led to mistruths and misinformation being provided to the reporter? Or, more concerning, though we certainly hope this is not the case, are the reporters incapable of being balanced and fair, which is a core tenet of journalism?
Further, questions must also be asked as to why the Pasco Sheriff’s Office seems to be the only agency that this Times’ report is focused on? We are aware of inquiries to other law enforcement agencies around the Tampa Bay area from a reporter involved in this story that state the intention is to investigate “Pasco’s” use of ILP. Why, despite the Pasco Sheriff’s Office providing numerous examples of other agencies that use ILP in our area and who have used ILP for longer than us, is the Pasco Sheriff’s Office the only focus of the Times’ reporting in this case?
On bias by the Times
In its final response, the Sheriff’s Office identified what it said was a bias against the department on the part of the Times.
It began by accusing the Times’ of choosing sources based on donations to the Times Investigative Journalism Fund.
Is this fact because the Times is, again, guilty of selection bias and is relying on unreliable sources for their information? Is there something deeper involved in this decision to seemingly ignore every other agency that utilizes the ILP philosophy in our immediate area while trusting unreliable sources?
It is hard to ignore that the Times currently has a fund allowing donations to the Times’ investigative journalism: https://projects.tampabay.com/projects/investigative-fund/
In the spirit of openness, accountability and transparency, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office believes that the Tampa Bay Times should immediately identify any and all individuals with whom they have discussed this reporting on the ILP philosophy, regardless of if they will be named sources in the story or not, who have also contributed to the Times’ investigative journalism fund. That same information should also be featured prominently at the beginning of the article, above the pay wall, so readers can have a full and complete understanding of the reporting process.
Thousands of people have donated to funds supporting Times journalism, and Times reporters have no knowledge of donors’ identities. Like subscribers and advertisers, donors have no sway over, or advanced knowledge of, the newsroom’s coverage.
The Sheriff’s Office also complained about an interview conducted with a target currently in prison.
Unfortunately, an absence of balanced and fair reporting is something that the Pasco Sheriff’s Office has come to expect from the Tampa Bay Times. A reporter involved in this story has demonstrated bias already, just through a review of the interview conducted with an inmate at the Land O’Lakes Detention Center. For example, during a line of questioning of the inmate, who had a lengthy criminal history, the reporter instead focused on how the Pasco Sheriff’s Office made the inmate and his family “feel”, instead of even once asking a question about how the individual’s criminal actions may have led to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office required response. It is disappointing, again, that there does not seem to even be a remote interest on the part of the Tampa Bay Times to share both sides of this story.
During the interview, the Times reporter asked both about the crime that resulted in his imprisonment and whether he had any regrets, in addition to the program’s impact on the inmate’s family.
The agency continued:
In addition, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office wishes to point out the numerous times that the Times has sought to portray the Pasco Sheriff’s Office ILP philosophy in a negative light without understanding facts or more concerning, leaving out known facts in an attempt to meet a conclusion that has already been decided. The Pasco Sheriff’s Office points to previous memos sent to us, where the Times notes that “The statistics you provided us on the decline in property crimes match the overall trend across the Tampa Bay area” as a way to discredit a success that we provided the Times in response to a question about the successfulness of the ILP philosophy. It is irresponsible, based on the information previously provided to the Times in these memos and in conjunction with the Times’ own reporting from 2010 as documented above, for the reporters to not note in memos to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and in their reporting that those same agencies who “match the overall” “decline in property crimes” “across the Tampa Bay area” also use the very same ILP philosophy that the Pasco Sheriff’s Office uses.
With these facts as presented above, it is hard to escape a conclusion that the sole purpose of this article is to attack a law enforcement agency to further the anti-law enforcement position of the reporters. This is conspicuously evidenced by the reporters’ use of untrustworthy sources, all of whom have well established reasons to misinform and discredit the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary that has been provided multiple times by the Pasco Sheriff’s Office to the Tampa Bay Times.
Read all the exchanges
On July 24, 2020, the Sheriff’s Office responded to a set of questions:
On July 31, 2020, the agency sent a memo responding to the Times reporting:
On August 20, the agency sent a response to a second set of questions:
The Sheriff’s Office sent a final memo on August 28: