Threats To Pull Database Access Increasing Misuse Reporting By Cali Law Enforcement Agencies

from the still-more-to-be-done,-unfortunately dept

Who polices the police? They can't be trusted to do it themselves. This much has been proven time and time again as misconduct and criminal behavior is greeted with minimal discipline or graceful exits that allow bad apples to move from barrel to barrel spreading rot.

What oversight actually exists tends to be beholden to law enforcement. In a few cases, truly independent oversight boards are in place, but their efforts are blunted by agencies that rarely hand out the punishment boards recommend or otherwise do everything they can to ensure this oversight is starved for information.

In California -- much like in other states -- abuse of law enforcement databases remains a problem. The EFF has been focusing on this state's efforts to curb abuse, raising it above the zero effort previously expended. This is, unfortunately, possibly one of the better years on record in California, and it still looks like this:

The records obtained by EFF show a total of 143 violations of database rules—the equivalent of an invasion of privacy every two and half days.

These numbers represent the first comprehensive accounting of misuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS). While the acronym is not well known by the public, everyone with a driver’s license or criminal record has information accessible through CLETS. Police and other public safety employees access this sensitive information approximately 2.8 million times a day during the regular course of business.

The EFF's efforts led to a reform effort by the state's Attorney General. New rules were handed down by the California DOJ mandating reporting on misuse of law enforcement databases. The AG swore to "proactively enforce this requirement," and it appears to be having a positive effect.

In 2017, only 704 agencies disclosed these records—approximately 53% compliance. Following an overhaul of the oversight system, in 2018 the Attorney General gathered information from 1,285 agencies—98 percent compliance.

The teeth in the mandate are linked to database access. Failure to comply means revoked access department-wide. Local law enforcement officials aren't going to want to have to hold press conferences explaining their inability to close investigations or whatever because their database access has been severed for refusing to report misuse.

But that's not the end of the line for the state AG. Compliance is way up, but there appears to be some under-reporting occurring. The EFF reports the LAPD -- which has blown off reporting for years -- finally started turning in numbers, but the reporting is beyond belief. The LAPD claims it only had to investigate misuse three times in 2017. This means one of two things: the LAPD's employees are among the finest and most honest in the United States, or lots of misuse is going un-investigated or unreported.

The AG needs to follow up with agencies to ensure the reported numbers are accurate and that investigations are prompt and thorough. Otherwise, it will be tempting for agencies to just hand in their homework every year without making any real changes to discourage misuse of law enforcement databases.

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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Jul 2018 @ 12:07pm

    But but but they are the good guys, why would we make sure they aren't abusing our trust?!?!?!?

    (OMFG I said it without laughing)

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

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Jul 2018 @ 12:31pm

    I can see it now

    John Law pulls a car over, goes to check on wants and warrants and verify the registration, then arrests all occupants of the car because the database didn't return an answer.

    Come to court and the judge asks John Law how he made the determination to arrest, when their agency has had their access to the database revoked?

    John Law stands up and says, SCOTUS says we don't have to know the law to enforce it, so I enforced it without knowing if they were perpetrators or not. Better safe than sorry.

    Judge says, oh, well then. OK, with Good Faith Exception and Qualified Immunity applied they must be guilty. But of what?

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

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