Bad Info In Law Enforcement Database Turned Former Cop Into A 'Suspected Gang Member'

from the we're-from-the-gov't-and-we're-here-to-make-you-pay-for-our-mistakes dept

Law enforcement databases, while useful in investigations, are also severely problematic. Not only does the desire to "collect it all" result in databases full of information about innocent people, but very few agencies are serious about deterring database misuse. In most cases -- despite the constant threat of criminal prosecution -- most abusers are hit with nothing more than short suspensions for improper access.

Then there's the problem with the humans running the systems. When mistakes are made (or information is entered for more malicious reasons) by government agencies, the consequences for those mistakenly targeted can be severe.

During a bitter, year-long legal battle that ended last month, Mr Hanson was shocked to discover his name was embedded in the police database as a "person of interest" involved in "suspected criminal activity" and "possibly associating" with Comanchero Outlaw Motorcycle Gang members.

The intelligence entry carried the highest "A1" police reliability rating. But Fairfax Media can reveal the only basis for the report was that Mr Hanson's family car had been observed in the same street, at the same time, as "two motorcycle riders" wearing Comanchero shirts.

The appearance of Mark Hanson (not his real name) in the police database occurred after a traffic stop in a casino parking lot. The officer performing the stop jumped to several conclusions, stating that Hanson's car was spotted "in the vicinity of several sports cars and motorbikes" on another street. In addition, the officer referred to the vehicle Hanson was driving his family in as "hotted up."

These inferences -- all of which were based on coincidental observations not backed up by any info collected by the officer -- became the official police narrative, thanks to his report's entry into the law enforcement database. From that point on, former police officer Hanson was considered to be involved in gang-related activity.

Because Hanson is a former police officer, he was able to get this corrected. Most citizens don't have the power to make that happen. He approached police supervisors about his database entry and was given some vague assurances that the bullshit he had been subjected to because of the officer's report might not happen again.

When Mr Hanson canvassed senior police about the revelation, the force's Professional Standards chief inspector Gregory Jewiss confirmed that the constable had generated an "entity link" containing unconfirmed information but said there was no evidence to suggest "any malicious intent" had been involved in its creation. He added the officer would be spoken with to ensure his "knowledge" was "improved" and such linkages were "not made again".

But the assurance that his database record had been purged did nothing to mitigate the damage already done. Hanson's entirely fake criminal status had already made its way into the hands of other agencies with access to the database, like State Crime Command's gangs squad and the Australian Crime Commission.

Hanson was forced to go to court to get this information excised. The removal the chief inspector assured him about wasn't performed proactively. Having both the money and knowledge to press his case effectively was key for Hanson's courtroom success. For most people, these two resources are beyond their reach, as was confirmed by a recent COPS (the criminal database in question) forum held by the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties.

The forum found that while entries in the database can result in extra police attention, it is "highly unlikely" that people would ever obtain intelligence reports and there is no entitlement to amendment of the database.

Citizens have no right to correct law enforcement's wrongs and no right to see what information has been gathered on them. They are almost completely at the mercy of the government. And the government is no less prone to errors or vindictiveness than those outside of it. The difference is that the government can do far more damage than any individual can, as it has the ability to mobilize entire agencies based on bad information.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2016 @ 3:23pm

    Good, now maybe something will be done about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 20 Dec 2016 @ 4:22am

      Re:

      oh my, did that fall off the turnip wagon bump your head ? ? ?
      hhh

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2016 @ 5:07am

        Re: Re:

        "Because Hanson is a former police officer, he was able to get this corrected. Most citizens don't have the power to make that happen. He approached police supervisors about his database entry and was given some vague assurances that the bullshit he had been subjected to because of the officer's report might not happen again. "

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2016 @ 3:25pm

    I'd just leave it in there as evidence that these sorts of databases are commonly filled with nonsense. Give it to every defense lawyer you can find and I'm sure it'll magically disappear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 19 Dec 2016 @ 3:33pm

    High Time for a New Law

    I say, it's high time and then some for a new law to come into existence.

    1. a. ANY citizen can order ANY cop arrested and imprisoned for up to one year for ANY reason AT ALL.
    b. ANY cop who fails to arrest another cop when instructed to do so by a citizen goes to jail for TWO years.
    c. There bill be no pardon, appeals, bond, parole, or early release for any cop imprisoned under these provisions.

    2. a. If at any time a cop is proved to have been lying - including by planting or otherwise tampering with evidence or withholding evidence, the court MUST imprison the cop for a MINIMUM of three years.
    b. There bill be no pardon, appeals, bond, parole, or early release for any cop imprisoned under this provision.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Daydream, 19 Dec 2016 @ 3:34pm

    But Fairfax Media can reveal the only basis for the report was that Mr Hanson's family car had been observed in the same street, at the same time, as "two motorcycle riders" wearing Comanchero shirts.

    Really? Well, by that logic the entire law enforcement community is heavily involved with every crime syndicates and gang in America!

    I mean, they often receive and spend money claimed to be proceeds of drug sales (or to be used for buying drugs), are seen in the company of drug dealers, addicts, thieves, murderers, etc (when arresting them), and have been frequently seen breaking into homes, shooting people, and generally acting outside the law (police powers or not)!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Daydream, 19 Dec 2016 @ 3:38pm

      Errata:

      Wait, this is in Australia? My bad, I'm so used to seeing 'bad cop in America' stories that I automatically assumed this was another American story. Mea culpa.

      ...I thought the police were supposed to be good in Australia...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2016 @ 4:33pm

        Re: Errata:

        There are many places where they are brilliant, but there are just as many places where they are just not worth the canine faeces left in the local park. The problem is determining where these locations are.

        On top of that, there is a wrongly held belief here that if it is in a database then is is correct. What most don't understand is that most of the information within any normal database has about 30% reliability at the end of six months and goes down from there.

        It takes a huge effort (constant and all the time) to keep any database above 70% accuracy. In one team I was in, we had a full-time person whose job was to systematically go through every record and get corrected information. Once she reached the end, she would start all over again. I don't think we ever got above 80% accuracy, there were too many changes in both the organisation and the infrastructure to keep up with.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2016 @ 5:14am

          Re: Re: Errata:

          "It takes a huge effort (constant and all the time) to keep any database above 70% accuracy."

          If I have a database which contains the smallest thousand prime numbers, how is this only 70% accurate? What huge effort is required in order to keep said data from .... what happens to the data, does it evaporate, sublimate ... what?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2016 @ 7:14am

            Re: Re: Re: Errata:

            you are completely misunderstanding.

            the data in a database can be technically 100% factually correct data and still be inaccurate. Terrible Queries, Views, Formatting, Types, Structure, Relationships, Collation... I mean there are a lot of things that can go wrong to make that data far less accurate, even IF most or even all of the individual elements themselves are correct on their own.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2016 @ 8:57am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Errata:

              Queries are not part of the database.

              Seems you have issues with the database design and structure, fix that first.

              If the DBA does not know what they are doing, hire some one who does.

              If the application developers do not know how to write a proper query, hire some that do.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                The Wanderer (profile), 21 Dec 2016 @ 8:28am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Errata:

                I suspect the previous poster was referring to _stored_ queries, which - being stored in the database - are indeed part of it.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2016 @ 8:50pm

            Re: Re: Re: Errata:

            Why would you have a database of the smallest thousand prime numbers? This is stupidity.

            You are a pedant, obviously.

            As a pedant, you are therefore lacking in understanding of the bigger picture, mayhaps? Or is your common sense only situated in your right little toe?

            Richards Craniums, like yourself, however, don't deserved to have information stored in databases in any inaccurate way. But it is and most information stored about you is both wrong and used wrongly.

            If you can demonstrate that all or even most databases are anything above 30% accurate without the owners of the database actually putting any effort into cleansing the data then you can have your point. Otherwise, you know less about data in databases than I do about solar flare formation in blue giant stars.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anon E. Mous (profile), 19 Dec 2016 @ 4:54pm

    Th scary thing is this happens every day to everyday citizens because the cops like to stick ever bit of information they can glean from interaction with a person into police only databases that they share with other law enforcement agencies.

    Don't think this happens with just police databases either, this can happen with credit bureaus, Insurance companies , your workplace, your heath records, background checks and on and on. Most people have no idea how much your information is out there and available to anyone.

    Notice those little disclosures that say "we may share your information with third parties that we interact with in the course of our business" That means you information is for sale. And everyone does this and a lot of people dont know it and the governments allow it because it is a commodity instead of being private.

    This cop was lucky to know who to go after and where the information went and how to get it removes, your average person has no idea this is going on even, and it's all fucking legal thanks to the governments allowing this to happen.

    This needs to change but the government has no balls to change it because lobbyists and companies all want to make a buck of you. And as for trying to find out what information a police agency has on you and getting it removed, good luck with that

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    oliver, 19 Dec 2016 @ 11:48pm

    One needs to remember that Australia was "founded" by a gang of convicts. Literally.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 20 Dec 2016 @ 3:20am

      Australian Convicts

      Yes, convicted for:
      - theft and pickpocketing
      - trying to form a union
      - tolerating homosexuality
      - rebellion (particularly if you were Irish)
      - being catholic in Ireland and owning a gun
      - circulating the works of Thomas Paine
      - mutiny with intent to increase workplace conditions
      - demanding voting rights for everybody
      - being an orphan
      - illegal duelling
      - being a woman baring herself for "an immoral purpose"
      - being a servant accused of theft
      - bigamy
      - clandestine marriage
      - poaching (including plants and fish).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2016 @ 6:44am

      Re:

      "One needs to remember that Australia was "founded" by a gang of convicts. Literally."

      Not sure what "founded" means here, because ....

      People lived on the continent of Australia some forty thousand years before the bloody english dumped their unwanted there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 20 Dec 2016 @ 11:34am

        Re: Re:

        Not sure what "founded" means here, because ....

        People lived on the continent of Australia some forty thousand years before the bloody english dumped their unwanted there.

        Since Australia is both a continent and a country, and "founded" doesn't make sense in the context of one of those meanings, perhaps he was talking about the other one.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2016 @ 5:17am

    A cop gets caught up in their own bullshit system .... bloody fair dinkum mate!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2016 @ 4:09pm

    The guy was lucky for not being labeled as a terrorist. /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Dec 2016 @ 8:51pm

    And now for some good news

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NitroLab (profile), 20 Dec 2016 @ 11:48pm

    'Suspected Gang Member'

    Well, he was a cop, a member of the "gang in blue" so was it really inaccurate after all? ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Food For Fodder, 23 Dec 2016 @ 4:23am

    re: database abuse plus BOLO= organized stalking

    It is plainly terrifying to deal with even the best of cops after your name has been run through these inter-linked databases loaded with false and misleading information. One run in with a bad cop, or one false allegation that a person defeats in court and your next interaction is guaranteed to be increasingly miserable. Permanent suspects.

    Take this story above, plus this other Techdirt story about a BOLO,

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20161211/11153536248/bad-info-law-enforcement-database-turned-form er-cop-into-suspected-gang-member.shtml

    and you have what is called organized stalking. It is terrifying, and abusive, and very well hidden from the courts and society at large.

    No matter how much a guy tries to get a fresh start, each subsequent interaction with every potentially decent cop becomes a nightmare due to the slanders planted in these databases.

    One recent example is the case of Philando Castile in Minnesota, who was shot dead in his own car by a cop whose informattion about him included two things: that Castile had been stopped for petty traffic violations FIFTY TWO TIMES; and that Castile was a legal, registered gun owner.

    You can do the math yourself, but these are increasing by the year-they are targeted killings, preceded by bogus profiling that starts in these databases.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 3 Jan 2017 @ 5:50am

      Re: re: database abuse plus BOLO= organized stalking

      Take this story above, plus this other Techdirt story about a BOLO,

      You linked to the same story you're commenting on.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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