PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — A Department of Justice bureau is asking the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to press pause on its "Focused Deterrence Program" after finding several concerns with how the program is being run.
In a letter sent to Sheriff Chris Nocco from the Bureau of Justice Assistance Acting Director Kristen Mahoney, it claims the sheriff's office's intelligence program does not necessarily fall in line with expectations.
The bureau supplies a grant award to the sheriff's office under the Smart Policing Initiative to run the program "designed to support unbiased policing while promoting public safety, with an overarching goal of building trust between law enforcement and the community."
According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, these are its main issues with the program in question:
- The methodology used to identify people for inclusion.
- The name of the program and communications about the program.
- A lack of involvement and communication with the community regarding the program.
- Insufficient coordination with law enforcement stakeholders about the program.
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The bureau's letter also claimed that the sheriff's office recently circulated a letter of its own that did not "adequately" capture the training, resources and requirements set forth by the Department of Justice.
"These shortcomings have the unfortunate consequence of eroding trust in the community, rather than building trust," the letter reads.
Because of this, the bureau says it will complete an "intensive review" of several aspects of the program and assess the activities funded under the grant award. While under review, the sheriff's office has been instructed to pause all activities under the award.
But the Pasco County Sheriff's Office says it was "confused" by the Bureau of Justice Assistance's concerns given that for the last two years it claims decisions were made while working "hand-in-hand" with assigned subject matter experts.
A responding letter from Sheriff Nocco, states feedback for the program was that the sheriff's office was doing an "excellent job" and that "the messaging was well delivered."
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The sheriff's office also stands by the belief that it has appropriately implemented the "Focused Deterrence Program," which it adds is well-researched and evidence-based.
According to Nocco, the sheriff's office's methods for the program's selection process are not based on things like race, gender, or religion but that participation is rather determined "solely by an individual's criminal history within Pasco County."
Individuals are able to remove themselves from the program after two years without reoffending and are able to verify the accuracy of their selection, according to the sheriff's office.
Overall, Nocco's letter stresses that the sheriff's office is "disappointed" by the Bureau of Justice Assistance's approach to the situation.
"It is fundamentally unreasonable for BJA to have provided PSO with approval for all the components of the program, and now claim to be unaware of or do not approve of program components of which you had direct knowledge from the initial application and throughout the entire process," Nocco wrote.
10 Tampa Bay has reached out to the Department of Justice for comment. This story will be updated when, and if, we hear back.