Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco unveiled Friday, Feb. 22, a proposal from his agency to take over probation and parole services within the county from the Florida Department of Corrections.
“We hope to push this forward to improve public safety and at the same time improve reform policies for felony probation," Nocco said at a press conference.
Nocco is going to talk to Gov. Rick Scott about the idea next week. He said the agency needs to work with the Department of Corrections on the idea.
If approved, Pasco would be the first sheriff’s office in the state to handle felony probation and parole services. The proposal is being floated as a pilot program
Under the proposal, the state's probation officers who work in Pasco would be absorbed into the sheriff's office. These employees, however, would continue to be paid by the state under a contract with Pasco, Nocco said.
Why Nocco Thinks the Timing is Right
Nocco isn’t happy with some of the Department of Corrections’ policies and procedures.
He presented a Feb. 5 memo from DOC to its regional community directors that says it has decided to discontinue computer searches of offenders by all department staff.
Instead, probation and parole “officers will monitor offender compliance of computer/internet conditions by reporting information that becomes known regarding computer/internet violations to local law enforcement for further investigation or by reporting arrests for new computer/internet related crimes.”
The memo credits the change to constant advances in technology and also lack of training and resources needed to complete comprehensive searches.
“As a sheriff, I was startled,” Nocco said. “This would never happen at the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. We’re going to be aggressive out there. We’re going to make sure that we enforce the law. As a parent, I‘m going to make sure my little ones are protected, the same way we ensure every child in Pasco County is protected.”
Nocco said that change needs to undone immediately, although he’ll still pursue his proposal if it is.
“We’re basically telling sex offenders on felony probation that ‘we’re no longer going to check your computers,'” he said.
Nocco said that the sheriff’s office already transports prisoners for probation officers. The sheriff's office's warrants officer is constantly out on streets and is now doing house checks.
“Our warrants unit is getting overwhelmed with the violations of probation,” he said.
A press release noted an Inspector General Report states probation officers are certified to perform limited law enforcement functions. The release, however, states that the DOC “lacks adequate procedures, training, equipment and expertise in the field of law enforcement to support this.”
Nocco said that there was a case in Pasco where two probation officers who gave chase to a felon were disciplined due to DOC procedures.
“That’s unheard of, and it’s unnecessary,” he said. ”That would not happen at the sheriff’s office.”
The Inspector General report stated the officers' actions were justified. It cleared the officers.
The current system of probation and parole services “is not working,” Nocco said.
“We can’t be doing things that don’t work,” Nocco said. “We have to be progressive in our actions.”
Similar Programs are Working Elsewhere
Nocco’s proposal is based on a model of local oversight that a sheriff’s office in Oregon is spearheading and a program in Hawaii called Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE).
Nocco touted results of the HOPE program on which he is basing his proposal.
A 2010 Pew Center report on the HOPE program states in a one-year trial, HOPE probationers were less likely to be arrested for a new crime, use drugs, skip appointments with their probationary office and have their probation revoked.
Nocco said his agency is already working with rehabilitation and mental health programs.
“I think the reforms that we can create for those who are addicted to drugs, those with mental illness, will save us money in the long run because we’re cleaning up the system and we’re getting rid of bureaucracy,” Nocco said.
Ann Howard, spokeswoman for the DOC, said the department had not received a formal proposal on the idea but forwarded a statement from department Secretary Michael Crews to Patch.
The statement reads:
“The Department of Corrections takes its mission of public safety seriously as evidenced by the more than 5% reduction in recidivism, meaning communities are safer today than years past. This success is attributable to the staff in the department – as well as the probation and community corrections members in the field – who work closely with local law enforcement partners on a daily basis. The Secretary looks forward to meeting with the Sheriff on Monday to discuss public safety issues.”
Should the Pasco Sheriff's Office take on probation duties? Share your thoughts on the proposal in the comments section.