Thursday, September 29, 2016

Police routinely misuse databases to get personal information, says AP investigation

A disciplinary report following an unauthorized search
a Miami-Dade County police officer did of a reporter
who did a story on how police officers taking official
vehicles home costs taxpayers millions of dollars.
An Associated Press investigation has found that police officers routinely misuse confidential databases "to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work," Sadie Gurman and Eric Tucker report for AP. The investigation found that no single agency tracks abuse, making it impossible to know how often violations occur.

"Criminal-history and driver databases give officers critical information about people they encounter on the job," Gurman and Tucker write. "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."

An open records request of 50 states and about three dozen of the nation’s largest police departments, found that more than 325 times from 2013-2015 employees who misused databases were fired, suspended or resigned, Gurman and Tucker write. "They received reprimands, counseling or lesser discipline in more than 250 instances, the review found."

"Unspecified discipline was imposed in more than 90 instances reviewed by AP," Gurman and Tucker write. "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."

"Some departments produced no records at all," Gurman and Tucker write. "Some states refused to disclose the information, said they don’t comprehensively track misuse, or they 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." (Read more)

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