Denver Police Officers Improperly Access Sensitive Crime Database Because Department Has No Interest In Stopping Them

from the also-because-they're-terrible-people-who-abuse-their-position dept

Massive databases full of personal information are in the hands of law enforcement. There are many legitimate uses for these databases, but like anything containing sensitive information, the temptation to abuse access privileges is omnipresent. This is highly problematic when the violator is a law enforcement officer. Not only does this violate internal policies and local statutes, but it puts sensitive info in the hands of someone who has plenty of power but little apparent interest in wielding it properly.

Officers have run suspect background checks on police review board members, used sensitive databases to screen potential dates, and spy on their ex-wives. So, it’s unsurprising that another law enforcement agency has been found to be housing abusers of sensitive databases.

[Independent Monitor Nicholas] Mitchell said 25 Denver officers have been punished for inappropriate use of the databases since 2006. Most of them received reprimands rather than the harsher penalties some police agencies impose for the same offense. None of the 25 was charged with a crime.

The abuse will continue at the Denver PD unless something changes. Officers are warned that improper access of the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) database may result in criminal charges, but that’s obviously not true. The report says that, in the last decade, no officer caught abusing access to the database has received anything more severe than a three-day suspension. It further notes that these officers may not have even received this minimal suspension if it weren’t for previous misconduct on the records prior to the improper access violation.

This improper access was used to facilitate activities that could themselves be considered criminal.

The Denver cases include an officer who looked up the phone number of a hospital employee with whom he chatted during a sex assault investigation and called at home against her wishes.

Another officer ran a man’s license plate seeking information for a friend, who then began driving by the man’s house and threatening him, according to the monitor’s report.

Unsurprisingly, the monitor has suggested the Denver PD immediately institute harsher punishments for improper access. The Denver PD has responded by saying the punishments are harsh. And they are. It can fire officers and bring criminal charges against them for improper access. It just has never done so. I guess a theoretical deterrent is better than no deterrent at all?

And, while 25 officers may seem like a really low number of abusers, the monitor says his office has no idea how widespread this abuse is. The Denver PD never audits its officers’ use of the database. It only responds to complaints of possible improper access. Its internal oversight is just as weak as its half-hearted wrist slaps in response to verified abuse.

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Comments on “Denver Police Officers Improperly Access Sensitive Crime Database Because Department Has No Interest In Stopping Them”

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16 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

"It's only wrong to misuse personal information if someone else does it."

I have no doubt whatsoever that any member of the general public who did something even remotely like looking up the personal data of a cop and going to their house to harass them, or repeatedly calling them at home despite their wishes otherwise would have the PD calling for blood, accusing those responsible of gross violations of personal privacy and demanding that they face significant punishments for it. I rather doubt that they’d accept a ‘And don’t you do it again’ non-warning as acceptable in a case like that.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: I think the moral of the story is...

That anyone with power becomes like little kids if they have no cause to behave like adults.

You may get the rare character who believes in honor or responsibility or whatever, but even they will be tempted sooner or later.

We know power corrupts. What amazes me is that we still allow it to be centralized or focused in elite hands.

Maybe the next iteration will do better.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“The Denver PD has responded by saying the punishments are harsh.”

But they are far to harsh to use on those charged with upholding the law. If they were held to the same laws & punishments as little people they would feel no better than them and this would lower morale. We have to allow them to have 3 day vacations to recover from these lapses in judgement than many of them make over and over.

Accountability, it is for little people not the enforcers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Crime Database Misuse (Invasion of Priavacy)

Every time this occurs, the person whose privacy was violated should be notified as a matter of law. And that notification should name the violator. The aggrieved party can then sue the institution and the violator. The institution would then be less tolerant of such abuse and would-be violators would think twice before nosing around.

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