Police officers across the country misuse confidential law enforcement databases to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons that have nothing to do with daily police work, an Associated Press investigation has found.
Criminal-history and driver databases give officers critical information about people they encounter on the job. But the AP's review shows how those systems 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.
No single agency tracks how often the abuse happens nationwide, and record-keeping inconsistencies make it impossible to know how many violations occur.
But the AP, through records requests to state agencies and big-city police departments, found law enforcement officers and employees who misused databases were fired, suspended or resigned more than 325 times between 2013 and 2015. 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. 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.
Among those punished: an Ohio officer who looked up information on an ex-girlfriend and pleaded guilty to stalking her, a Michigan officer who looked up home addresses of women he found attractive, and two Miami-Dade officers who ran checks on a journalist after he aired unflattering stories about the department.
"It's personal. It's your address. It's all your information, it's your Social Security number, it's everything about you," said Alexis Dekany, the Akron woman whose former boyfriend, a police officer, pleaded guilty last year to stalking her. "And when they use it for ill purposes to commit crimes against you to stalk you, to follow you, to harass you ... It just becomes so dangerous."
The misuse represents only a tiny fraction of the millions of daily database queries run legitimately during traffic stops, criminal investigations and routine police encounters. But violators misuse systems that supply information on law-abiding citizens as well as criminal suspects.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)