A Tampa Bay Times investigative series has won the prestigious Scripps Howard Award in the local/regional investigative reporting category.
The award was announced Wednesday night in a virtual ceremony.
The series, Targeted, exposed a policing initiative in Pasco County that uses an algorithm to identify people that the Sheriff’s Office believed might be likely to commit crimes in the future. About a 1,000 people were monitored under the program, including children.
Reporters found that Pasco County residents who got caught in the agency’s sights were subjected to harassment, often having deputies show up at odd hours. More than 12,500 times, deputies checked on the people that a departmental algorithm identified as targets, the Times found. Those targeted were written up for missing mailbox numbers or overgrown grass. Four people who said they were victims of Sheriff Chris Nocco’s program have since filed a lawsuit against the sheriff in federal court.
The series by Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi also found that the school district in Pasco County shared information on grades, discipline and attendance with law enforcement that it used to compile a secret list of students that could fall into a life of crime. Children with D or F grades, or those who had experienced abuse, were considered for the list, according to the law enforcement agency’s manual. That has raised privacy concerns and prompted a federal investigation. A nonprofit that sent money to the school district announced it would stop doing so.
Nocco has stood by his department’s efforts, as has the school district.
“This recognition underscores the tremendous value of local watchdog journalism,” said Mark Katches, executive editor and vice president of the Times. “Through meticulous and dogged reporting, our investigative reporters shed light on a program that few people knew anything about.”
McGrory is now the Times’ deputy editor for investigations. Bedi joined the staff of ProPublica in Washington, D.C., in February.
The Scripps Howard prize comes with a cash award of $20,000.
The accolades have been mounting for the project. The series was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting; the News Leaders Association award for local accountability reporting; and an Investigative Reporters & Editors award for excellence in reporting about crime.