A look at police abuse of confidential databases nationwide
An Associated Press investigation found police officers across the country abuse confidential law enforcement databases to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons totally unrelated to police work. In the worst cases, officers have stalked, harassed and tampered with criminal cases using details obtained through criminal history and motor vehicle databases. Those resources give officers vital information about people they encounter on the job, but they can also be misused.
Here’s a look at some of the cases AP found in responses to records requests to 50 state agencies and big city police departments:
‘ANY INFORMATION ON ANYBODY’
A Phoenix police officer gave a woman involved in a drug and gun-trafficking investigation details about stolen cars in exchange for arranging sexual encounters for him. The woman told an undercover detective she could get “any information on anybody” from her source within the police department and offered to charge the detective $100 for it.
A former North Olmsted, Ohio, officer pleaded guilty to using a law enforcement database to find information on a female friend’s landlord. Dressed in uniform and driving a police cruiser, he showed up in the middle of the night to demand the return of the money he said was owed to his friend, according to court records.
The former officer, Brian Bielozer, told AP he legitimately ran a query on the landlord as a safety precaution to determine if she had outstanding warrants or a weapons permit, as he would in other cases. He promised as part of a plea agreement never to seek a job in law enforcement again. Bielozer said he entered the plea to avoid mounting legal fees.
‘JUST A LAPSE IN JUDGMENT’
A Miami-Dade police sergeant used Florida’s driver database to conduct unauthorized searches on dozens of celebrities, politicians, high-profile newsmakers and fellow officers. Among them: basketball stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, New York Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, news anchor Alexis Rivera; Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Scott’s son.
The officer told investigators it was “just a lapse in judgment.”
A Texas highway patrolman used databases to manufacture fake traffic tickets to make it look like he had made more stops than he actually had.
INFO FOR SALE
A Michigan State Police dispatcher admitted querying a confidential law enforcement database dozens of times over 15 years and selling personal information to attorneys. The abuse began in the late 1990s and continued until 2008, according to records. The dispatcher retired in January 2013.
An Auburn, Washington, police commander searched for a license plate after being contacted by a friend who’d been involved in a hit-and-run incident, then provided that information to his friend and told him to drive by that location to find the suspect.
BRIBES FOR INFORMATION
A former Cumming, Georgia, police officer was indicted in June for accepting a $1,000 bribe to search a woman’s license plate number to see if she was an undercover officer.
PRANKS AND THREATS
Donna Watts, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, stopped a Miami officer for speeding in 2011. Watts accused more than 88 officers from 25 agencies of later accessing her driver’s license information. She alleged in lawsuits that she was threatened on law-enforcement websites and harassed with prank calls and unfamiliar cars idling in her cul-de-sac.
“Each and every one of the unlawful accesses caused me, and continues to cause me, emotional distress and has either caused or worsened anxiety, depression, insomnia and other medical/physical/psychological conditions I suffer,” Watts said in a sworn statement as part of the case.
‘EVERY WHITE PICKUP’
A marshal in Mancos, Colorado, asked his deputies to run license plates of every white pickup truck they saw because his girlfriend was seeing a man who drove a white pickup, according to an investigative report. Once he identified the man, he drove by his house.