Fired deputy claims random stop policy led to dismissal

Fired deputy questions random stop policy

A fired deputy is sounding the alarm about questionable policies in the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Former deputy Steven Smith broke his silence first on 10News Thursday night.

He denies allegations that he stole pain pills or broke the law pawning his service weapon.

Smith’s attorney, John Trevena, says trying to protect the community put a target on his client's back.

“Yes, it's about restoring his reputation, but it's also about shining a light on one of the most horrendous unconstitutional police policies I've ever heard of, occurring right here in our backyard,” said Trevena.

The deputy says he shot down the sheriff's quota for what's called "Field Interview Reports". FIRs allow deputies to stop and question motorists get their ID and picture, even if they've done nothing wrong.

“Hello ma'am. Where are you going? What is your name? Where is your ID? Let me take a picture of you and put you in our system. Alright, have a good day!  You’re going to think 'what just happened?' That's what essentially it was,” says Smith.

Smith says the sheriff mandated 30 of the random stops for each nightshift deputy every month, 20 for the dayshift. When Smith challenged it, he says, it cost him his career and reputation.

“I didn't agree with it, and told them, ‘I'm not going to do it - never will.’  If I'm guilty of anything it's for standing up and having a backbone for what I believe is right,” says Smith.

“It's near unconstitutional. It's an invasive violation of someone's privacy,” Smith says.

The sheriff's office admits to conducting FIRs, calling them routine police work: stopping and chatting with people out and about, gathering information about who's in a neighborhood, then saving the info in a report database. The department wouldn't confirm there's a monthly quota and believes the practice can help solve crimes in the community.

“I can see that, but I can also see it being problematic that they might do it more in some neighborhoods than others,” said mother Amy Robles.

“You teach your kids that if an officer approaches you be respectful. I think that is an invasion of privacy,” said mother Kam Simpson.

“We don't know for what the information is being used and that's what's scary,” said father Jean Rosario.

What you may not know: the sheriff's office tells 10News if you're stopped by a deputy and aren't doing anything wrong, you can refuse to give your information.  But even a minor violation, like not having a light on your bike at night, and you have to comply.

“They're constantly stopping the colored people,” said Rosario.

“I wasn't going to play that game,” says Smith.  When asked if refusing to perform FIRs put a target on his back, Smith replied, “Absolutely.”

The Tampa Police Department recently came under fire from federal authorities for ticketing thousands of black bicyclists in the name of crime fighting.

TPD made changes after the Department of Justice found it didn't reduce crime or bike thefts, and unfairly targeted those bikers. 

(© 2016 WTSP)


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