Police Are Using Confidential Databases To Target Political Opponents, Personal Enemies And Scorned Lovers

"It's personal. It's your address. It's all your information, it's your Social Security number, it's everything about you."
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    ENVER  — Police officers across the country misuse confidential law enforcement databases to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work, an Associated Press investigation has found.

    Criminal-history and driver databases give officers critical information about people they encounter on the job. But the AP’s review shows how those systems also can be exploited by officers who, motivated by romantic quarrels, personal conflicts or voyeuristic curiosity, sidestep policies and sometimes the law by snooping. In the most egregious cases, officers have used information to stalk or harass, or have tampered with or sold records they obtained.

    No single agency tracks how often the abuse happens nationwide, and record-keeping inconsistencies make it impossible to know how many violations occur.

    But the AP, through records requests to state agencies and big-city police departments, found law enforcement officers and employees who misused databases were fired, suspended or resigned more than 325 times between 2013 and 2015. They received reprimands, counseling or lesser discipline in more than 250 instances, the review found.

    Unspecified discipline was imposed in more than 90 instances. In many other cases, it wasn’t clear from the records if punishment was given at all. The number of violations was surely far higher since records provided were spotty at best, and many cases go unnoticed.

    Among those punished: an Ohio officer who pleaded guilty to stalking an ex-girlfriend and who looked up information on her; a Michigan officer who looked up home addresses of women he found attractive; and two Miami-Dade officers who ran checks on a journalist after he aired unflattering stories about the department.

    “It’s personal. It’s your address. It’s all your information, it’s your Social Security number, it’s everything about you,” said Alexis Dekany, the Ohio woman whose ex-boyfriend, a former Akron officer, pleaded guilty last year to stalking her. “And when they use it for ill purposes to commit crimes against you — to stalk you, to follow you, to harass you … it just becomes so dangerous.”

    The misuse represents only a tiny fraction of the millions of daily database queries run legitimately during traffic stops, criminal investigations and routine police encounters. But the worst violations profoundly abuses systems that supply vital information on criminal suspects and law-abiding citizens alike. The unauthorized searches demonstrate how even old-fashioned policing tools are ripe for abuse, at a time when privacy concerns about law enforcement have focused mostly on more modern electronic technologies. And incomplete, inconsistent tracking of the problem frustrates efforts to document its pervasiveness.

    The AP tally, based on records requested from 50 states and about three dozen of the nation’s largest police departments, is unquestionably an undercount.

    Some departments produced no records at all. Some states refused to disclose the information, said they don’t comprehensively track misuse or produced records too incomplete or unclear to be counted. Florida reported hundreds of misuse cases of its driver database, but didn’t say how often officers were disciplined.

    And some cases go undetected, officials say, because there aren’t clear red flags to automatically distinguish questionable searches from legitimate ones.

    “If we know the officers in a particular agency have made 10,000 queries in a month, we just have no way to (know) they were for an inappropriate reason unless there’s some consequence where someone might complain to us,” said Carol Gibbs, database administrator with the Illinois State Police.

    The AP’s requests encompassed state and local databases and the FBI-administered National Crime and Information Center, a searchable clearinghouse that processes an average of 14 million daily transactions.

    The NCIC catalogs information that officers enter on sex offenders, immigration violators, suspected gang members, people with outstanding warrants and individuals reported missing, among others. Police use the system to locate fugitives, identify missing people and determine if a motorist they’ve stopped is driving a stolen car or is wanted elsewhere.

    Other statewide databases offer access to criminal histories and motor vehicle records, birth dates and photos.

    Officers are instructed that those systems, which together contain data far more substantial than an internet search would yield, may be used only for legitimate law enforcement purposes. They’re warned that their searches are subject to being audited and that unauthorized access could cost them their jobs or result in criminal charges.

    Yet misuse persists.

     

    An Abuse Of Power

    Violations frequently arise from romantic pursuits or domestic entanglements, including when a Denver officer became acquainted with a hospital employee during a sex-assault investigation, then searched out her phone number and called her at home. A Mancos, Colorado, marshal asked co-workers to run license plate checks for every white pickup truck they saw because his girlfriend was seeing a man who drove a white pickup, an investigative report shows.

    In Florida, a Polk County sheriff’s deputy investigating a battery complaint ran driver’s license information of a woman he met and then messaged her unsolicited through Facebook.

    Officers have sought information for purely personal purposes, including criminal records checks of co-workers at private businesses. A Phoenix officer ran searches on a neighbor during the course of a longstanding dispute. A North Olmsted, Ohio, officer pleaded guilty this year to searching for a female friend’s landlord and showing up in the middle of the night to demand the return of money he said was owed her.

    The officer, Brian Bielozer, told the AP he legitimately sought the landlord’s information as a safety precaution to determine if she had outstanding warrants or a weapons permit. But he promised as part of a plea agreement never to seek a job again in law enforcement. He said he entered the plea to avoid mounting legal fees.

    Some database misuse occurred in the course of other misbehavior, including a Phoenix officer who gave a woman involved in a drug and gun-trafficking investigation details about stolen cars in exchange for arranging sexual encounters for him. She told an undercover detective about a department source who could “get any information on anybody,” a disciplinary report says.

    Eric Paull, the Akron police sergeant who pleaded guilty last year to stalking Dekany, also ran searches on her mother, men she’d been close with and students from a course he taught, prosecutors said. A lawyer for Paull, who was sentenced to prison, said Paull has accepted responsibility for his actions.

    “A lot of people have complicated personal lives and very strong passions,” said Jay Stanley, an American Civil Liberties Union privacy expert. “There’s greed, there’s lust, there’s all the deadly sins. And often, accessing information is a way for people to act on those human emotions.”

    Other police employees searched for family members, sometimes at relatives’ requests, to check what information was stored or to see if they were the subjects of warrants.

    Still other searchers were simply curious, including a Miami-Dade officer who admitted checking dozens of officers and celebrities including basketball star LeBron James.

    Political motives occasionally surface.

    Deb Roschen, a former county commissioner in Minnesota, alleged in a 2013 lawsuit that law enforcement and government employees inappropriately ran repeated queries on her and other politicians over 10 years. The searches were in retaliation for questioning county spending and sheriff’s programs, she contended.

    She filed an open-records request that revealed her husband and daughter were also researched, sometimes at odd hours. But an appeals court rejected her suit and several similar cases this month, saying the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the searches were unpermitted.

    “Now there are people who do not like me that have all my private information … any information that could be used against me. They could steal my identity, they could sell it to someone,” Roschen said.

    “The sense of being vulnerable,” she added, “there’s no fix to that.”

     

    ‘They Went After My Husband And Daughter’

    Deb Roschen goes through notebooks of evidence of how authorities accessed information about her through law enforcement databases, during an interview in Rochester, Minn., on July 11, 2016.

    Deb Roschen goes through notebooks of evidence of how authorities accessed information about her through law enforcement databases, during an interview in Rochester, Minn., on July 11, 2016.

    Violations are committed by patrol officers, dispatchers, civilian employees, court personnel and high-ranking police officials. Some made dozens of improper searches. Some were under investigation for multiple infractions when they were punished, making it unclear whether database misuse was always the sole reason for discipline.

    Agencies uncover some violations during audits, or during investigations into other misconduct. Some emerge after a citizen, often the target of a search, finds out or grows suspicious. A Jacksonville, Florida, sheriff’s officer was found to have run queries on his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend after she raised concerns she was being harassed, an internal affairs report says.

    The AP sought to focus on officers who improperly accessed information on others but also counted some cases in which officers divulged information to someone not authorized to receive it, or ran their own names for strictly personal purposes, including to check their car registrations.

    The tally also includes some cases in which little is known about the offense because some agencies provided no details — only that they resulted in discipline.

    The AP tried when possible to exclude benign violations, such as new employees who ran only their own names during training or system troubleshooting. But the variability in record-keeping made it impossible to weed out all such violations.

    Agencies in California, for instance, reported more than 75 suspensions, resignations and terminations between 2013 and 2015 arising from misuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, state records show. But because the records didn’t identify officers or specify the allegations, it’s unclear whether multiple violations were committed by the same person or how egregious the infractions were.

    Colorado disclosed about 35 misuse violations without specifying punishment. Indiana listed 12 cases of abuse but revealed nothing about them. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported about 400 violations in 2014 and 2015 of its Driver and Vehicle Information Database, or DAVID, but didn’t include the allegations or punishment.

    The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division offers training to state and local law enforcement agencies on NCIC use, and conducts audits every three years that include a sample of local departments, said spokesman Stephen Fischer.

    But it doesn’t track how often NCIC information is misused. Violations, which are not required to be reported directly to the FBI, are inconsistently disclosed to the federal government. The FBI relies on local agencies to address violations that are identified, Fischer said.

    The AP requested records from large police departments and state agencies tasked with administering NCIC usage within their districts. The responses included cases where officers misused motor vehicle data, including driver’s license and registration information, and also more sensitive criminal history records.

    Officers are only occasionally prosecuted, and rarely at the federal level.

    One recent exception is a former Cumming, Georgia, officer charged in June with accepting a bribe to search a woman’s license plate number to see if she was an undercover officer. Another involved Ronald Buell, a retired New York Police Department sergeant who received probation for selling NCIC information to a private investigator for defense attorneys.

    At his July sentencing, Buell said he hoped other officers would learn “to never put themselves in the position I’m in.”

    It’s unsettled whether improper database access is necessarily a federal crime and whether it violates a trespass statute that criminalizes using a computer for other than authorized purposes.

    A federal appeals court last year reversed the computer-crime conviction of ex-NYPD officer Gilberto Valle, whom tabloids dubbed the “cannibal cop” for his online exchanges about kidnapping and eating women and who improperly used a police database to gather information. Valle argued that as an officer, he was legally authorized to access the database. The court deemed the statute ambiguous and said it risked criminalizing a broad array of computer use.

    Misuse has occasionally prompted federal lawsuits under a statute meant to protect driver’s license data.

    A Florida Highway Trooper, Donna Watts, accused dozens of officers of searching her in the state’s driver database after she stopped a Miami-Dade officer for speeding in 2011. She alleged in lawsuits that she was harassed with prank calls, threatening posts on law enforcement websites and unfamiliar cars that idled near her home.

    Each unlawful access, she said in a court document, “has either caused or worsened anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other medical/physical/psychological conditions I suffer.”

    Law enforcement officials have taken steps to try to limit abuse, though they say they know of no foolproof safeguard given the volume of inquiries and the need for officers to have information at their fingertips.

    “There’s no system that could prohibit you from looking up your ex-wife’s new boyfriend, because your ex-wife’s new boyfriend could come in contact with the criminal justice system,” said Peggy Bell, executive director of the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System.

    The Minnesota Department of Public Safety said it changed the way officers access a state driver database after a 2013 legislative audit found over half of the 11,000 law enforcement personnel who use it made searches that appeared questionable. The audit was conducted after a former state employee was charged with illegally viewing thousands of driver’s license records.

    In Florida, a memorandum of understanding this year increased the amount of field audits law enforcement agencies must undergo regarding DAVID usage. Troopers in the Florida Highway Patrol sign usage warnings when they access the DAVID system and a criminal sanctions acknowledgment. Users are audited and instructed to select a reason for a search before making inquiries.

    Denver’s independent monitor, Nicholas Mitchell, argued for strong policies and strict discipline as a safeguard, especially as increasing amounts of information are added to databases. His review found most of the 25 Denver officers punished for misusing databases over 10 years received at most reprimands.

    Miami-Dade police cracked down after the Watts scandal and other high-profile cases. The department now does quarterly audits in which officers can be randomly asked to explain searches. A sergeant’s duties have been expanded to include daily reviews of proper usage and troubleshooting, said Maj. Christopher Carothers of the professional compliance bureau.

    Even if the public is unaware of the amount of available information, Carothers said, “The idea that police would betray that trust out of curious entertainment or truly bad intent, that’s very disturbing and unsettling.”

    This AP Report was prepared by Eric Tucker from Washington. AP writer Tom Hays in New York and AP video journalist Joshua Replogle in Akron, Ohio.
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      • James Wherry

        So did NSA members. All should be exposed, reported to those whose privacy was violated, and prosecuted.

      • GALT

        ” I shocked…..SHOCKED to learn that……power corrupts or is abused.”

        Common “law and equity” requires that a victim be produced, harm or
        damage be demonstrated, or a contract violated. Almost everything
        law enforcement does would be “unconstitutional” if you had not
        voluntarily “given up your rights”. Didn’t know you had given them up?
        If you don’t have a “reservation of rights” in place prior to your needing them,
        you only have what the current jurisdiction allows.

        Driving is a privilege because you have agreed that it is. You accept “federal
        reserve notes” as a benefit…..just don’t be caught with too many of them….
        benefits are limited, privileges are limited, immunities are limited….and
        all are subject to change. ( I wonder if you can guess in what direction
        these will go over time? )

        The “constitution” is a piece of garbage, written for white men of property
        and when “democracy” became a possibility, with the passage of the
        17th and 19th amendments…….it was rendered impotent in 1939.

        Nothing is as its seems…..

        “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls……”

        • The Constitution of the United States of America U.S. Constitution 13th Amendment – Amendment XIII

          Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

          Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

          So, what did Congress do after that with the 14th Amendment Citizenship: Citizen = SLAVE

          Prior to the alleged ratification of the 14th Amendment, there was no legal definition of a “citizen of the United States”, as everyone had primary citizenship in one of the several states. The Constitution referred to the sovereign state citizen, and no one else. Those who went to Washington, D.C. or outside the several states were commonly called “citizens of the United States.” In the Constitution for the United States, the term was used to identify state citizens who were eligible under the suffrage laws to hold office, and they were required under the Constitution to have primary allegiance to one of the several states.

          http://youtu.be/y4xV4MTnCdc

          • GALT

            Once you have eliminated “definition” as it pertains to meaning all
            manner of perversion becomes possible.

            When Marshall introduced the concept of “judicial review”, a power
            not available in the constitution, this opened the idea that the “constitution”
            needed to be “interpreted” rather than “applied”. It lay fallow for decades,
            as the federal government has been described by many as “being nothing
            more than a post office” until 1877, as “manifest destiny” had essentially
            moved forward undisturbed, from it’s original inception…with the brief
            intercession of the “southern secession” and the requirement that the
            institution of slavery, also be required to “expand” westward.

            The “court”, now began to assert this new power in ways that favored
            the business interests of “capitalists”.

            When common “law and equity” was disposed of in 1939, the court
            has become a major player in this “new regime” which makes the
            current argument for the next presidents ability to appoint “justices”
            a bit absurd……..since all of them KNOW, we are no longer operating
            under common “law and equity”…..so the hope that maybe newly
            appointed judges might be a bit more “liberal” regarding the rights
            of us citizen/slaves is like choosing to be moderately burned, as opposed
            to badly burned, or fatally burned.

            The future we face is becoming fairly clear, in that government no longer
            serves the people, if it ever did……but that we are an “inconvenience to
            the powers that be” and should circumstances require it, we shall be disposed
            of, should we be too vociferous in our objections.

            That all of this will be done without the victims having the knowledge of
            how it was done, is tragic indeed.

            • Which this was the turning point at the very beginning of the 1800’s also known as the Progressive Era

              (1803) Marbury v. Madison – arguably the most important case in Supreme Court history, was the first U.S. Supreme Court case to apply the principle of “judicial review” — the power of federal courts to void acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution. Written in 1803 by Chief Justice John Marshall, the decision played a key role in making the Supreme Court a separate branch of government on par with Congress and the executive.

              http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/democracy/landmark_marbury.html

              Jan 12, 2012 Marbury v. Madison, 5 US 137 (1803) – A Dramatization of the Famous Case

              The following blog post applies the principle of constitutional supremacy established in Marbury v. Madison to a discussion of the nullity (voidness, legal non-existence) of the 2012 NDAA of President Barack Obama, and of the prior Patriot Act.

              https://youtu.be/WTI1VgwHtOM

              • GALT

                That is an interesting bit of “fiction” which alters the distinction
                of applying the constitution and the power to interpret it, to
                discover meaning which was never there.

                The “application” of the constitution automatically grants the
                power to declare any legislation which conflicts with it, as being
                unconstitutional.

                The power to interpret it, into the “living breathing” document
                which has become the mantra of the “contemporary politician”,
                was never the intent or those that wrote it.

                Now, I am no fan of the “original document” or the men who wrote
                it…..since their ambition and self interest are clearly visible in
                its product, and it was never intended to be democratic or accessible
                to any, except white men of property. But the legal concepts of
                common law and equity. as well as a jury’s right to be judge of
                both fact and law, are the most powerful checks on potential
                tyranny and corruption, and when these were lost to us, we have each
                become subject to the whims of those in power…..whose final
                verdict upon our usefulness, is simply a matter of time.

      • September 11, 2016 $1 Trillion Spent on US Police State Since 9/11 — If they ‘Hated Our Freedom,’ They Must Love Us Now

        Never let a tragedy go unused. This mantra of the State is as strong today as it was the day after 9/11.

        http://thefreethoughtproject.com/911-trillion-police-state-terrorism/

        • James Wherry

          I just don’t understand why those nice Black Lives Matter people aren’t out there policing our neighborhoods.

          If BLM would just spread their love, community activism and OBVIOUS intellectual superiority around the community and 3AM, when “shots fired” or “domestic violence” comes out over the police scanner, I’m just sure that by time the police arrived, nothing would be left and peace would guide the planets, and love would steer the stars.

          This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius,
          The age of Aquarius,
          The age of Aquarius,
          Aquarius,
          A-quar-is-us. . . .

          • quantumcipher

            Apparently you’re unable to see the difference between what is expected of a public servant and blatant abuses of power, at times resulting in homicide and death. I guess it’s all a joke to you, the trait of a deluded sociopath, until you find one day one you love, your wife or one of your children are gunned down by another sociopath not unlike yourself and those you defend.

            • James Wherry

              There was this movie from before you were born, see? It was called “Hair,” and, oh, never mind. I would think, however, that anyone bursting into the Age of Aquarius would be seen as sarcastic.

              Sarcasm is normally used when the writer – me – does not think the other side gets it. I’m perfectly well aware of the difference, but when I hear Fat Boy (Michael Moore) and the BLM members rage out of control and even talk about “killing the cops”, it’s evident they do not get the difference, either.

              You’re apparently not someone who’s here very often and don’t realize this is exactly how Lincoln thinks. Let him answer on his own, if you doubt me.

      • Feb 5, 2015 What Happened to the ‘Peace Officer’?

        The concept of the “peace officer” is a myth. Those so-called “peace officers” were, like today’s police, enforcing arbitrary legislation, operating based on the claimed legal right to do things wrong for you or me, and subsisting on stolen money.

        http://youtu.be/v-uKAkJtjIY

        Police Have No Duty To Protect Individuals *All of the court rulings are included in this link*

        Self-Reliance For Self-Defense — Police Protection Isn’t Enough! All our lives, especially during our younger years, we hear that the police are there to protect us. From the very first kindergarten- class visit of “Officer Friendly” to the very last time we saw a police car – most of which have “To Protect and Serve” emblazoned on their doors – we’re encouraged to give ourselves over to police protection.

        https://www.firearmsandliberty.com/kasler-protection.html

        • James Wherry

          Spoken like a true, conservative Libertarian who believes we should have no rules and that all money paid to public employees is “stolen” tax dollars.

          • quantumcipher

            And it’s clear you have no idea what you’re talking about.

            • James Wherry

              Amazing. You “thumb’ed up” yourself. Didn’t think anyone would notice?

              Read what Lincoln wrote. I’m dead on.

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