Across US, Police Officers Misuse Confidential Databases | NBC4 Washington
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

Across US, Police Officers Misuse Confidential Databases

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    Scores of police officers abuse confidential law enforcement databases to access personal information about ex-girlfriends, business associates, politicians and others for reasons that have nothing to do with police work. (Published Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016)

    Police officers across the country misuse confidential law enforcement databases to get information on romantic partners, business associates, neighbors, journalists and others for reasons unrelated to police work, an Associated Press investigation has found.

    Criminal-history and driver databases legitimately give officers critical information about people they encounter on the job. But those systems can also be exploited by officers, motivated by romantic quarrels, personal conflicts or voyeuristic curiosity, who sidestep policies and sometimes the law by snooping.

    Man Sees Vera Wang Diamond Ring on Sidewalk, Finds Its Owner

    [NATL] Man Finds Vera Wang Diamond Engagement Ring on Sidewalk, Tracks Down Its Owner

    Imagine looking down and finding a pristine diamond ring lying on the sidewalk. That was how Glenn Weddell found a Vera Wang diamond ring one afternoon in Sacramento, California. But instead of keeping it, Weddell hunted down the distraught owner to return the ring in a happy reunion. His method involved posting a sign to a tree downtown and hoping for the best. 

    (Published Thursday, April 27, 2017)

    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 enforcementofficers and employees who misused databases were fired, suspended or resigned more than 325 times between 2013 and 2015. They received reprimands, counseling and 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 if punishment was given at all. The number of violations was surely far higher since records provided were spotty at best.

    Among those punished: An Ohio officer who pleaded guilty to stalking an ex-girlfriend and who had looked up information on her, a Michigan officer who looked up addresses of women he found attractive, and two Miami-Dade officers who ran checks on a journalist who aired unflattering stories about the department.

    Flyer Protections on Overbooked Plane Flights

    [NATL] Flyer Protections on Overbooked Plane Flights

    NBC reports on the steps that flyers and travelers can take to protect themselves, and their vacation, from an overbooked flight.

    (Published Wednesday, April 26, 2017)

    "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, whose ex-boyfriend, an Akron police officer, pleaded guilty 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 officer ran searches on her male friends, students from a course he taught and others, prosecutors said.

    Misuse represents a tiny fraction of the millions of daily database queries run legitimately during policeencounters. But the violations abuse systems that supply vital information on criminal suspects and law-abiding citizens alike. And incomplete, inconsistent tracking of the problem frustrates efforts to document its pervasiveness.

    "A lot of people have complicated personal lives and very strong passions," said Jay Stanley, an American Civil Liberties Union privacy expert. "There's greed, there's lust, there's all the deadly sins. And often, accessing information is a way for people to act on those human emotions."

    New Artificial Wombs Stimulates Mom for Preemies

    [NATL] New Artificial Wombs Stimulates Mom for Preemies

    A new invention from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia may soon care for extremely premature babies. Artificial wombs stimulate an environment similar to a mother's womb - a method that researchers say is gentler than ventilators and incubators. 

    (Published Wednesday, April 26, 2017)

    The AP tally, from records requested from 50 states and about three dozen of the nation's largest policedepartments, is unquestionably an undercount. Some departments didn't produce records, refused to disclose information, said they don't track misuse or produced incomplete or unclear data. Some cases go unnoticed because of the difficulty in automatically distinguishing dubious searches from legitimate ones.

    The AP's requests encompassed local databases and the FBI-administered National Crime and Information Center, which catalogues records on, among others, sex offenders, gang members, fugitives and people reported missing. Other statewide systems contain motor vehicle records, birth dates and photos.

    Violations frequently arise from romantic pursuits or domestic entanglements. A Denver officer searched the phone number of a hospital employee he met during a sex-assault investigation and called her. Misuse sometimes reflects personal squabbles. A North Olmsted, Ohio, officer admitted looking up a friend's landlord and showing up to demand the return of money he said she was owed.

    Deb Roschen, a former commissioner in Wabasha County, Minnesota, alleged in a lawsuit that law enforcement and government employees inappropriately ran searches on her and other politicians over 10 years. The searches were retaliatory after she raised questions about county spending and sheriff's programs, she said.

    Teens Overcoming Opioids Seek Treatment in Recovery Schools

    [NATL] Teens Overcoming Opioid Dependence Seek Treatment in 'Recovery Schools'

    A new method for battling teenage opioid abuse comes not in the form of a new drug or counseling method, but in special "recovery schools" that emphasize communal support and positive peer pressure. 

    (Published Tuesday, April 25, 2017)

    An appeals court dismissed her suit. But, she said, "Twenty years from now... I'm still going to be thinking about it. The sense of being vulnerable, there's no fix to that."

    The AP focused on officers who accessed information about others but also counted some cases in which they divulged information without authorization, or ran themselves for personal purposes. The tally also includes some cases where little is known about the offense, because some agencies provided no details about the violations except that they resulted in discipline. It wasn't always clear if database misuse was the sole basis for punishment.

    The AP sought to exclude benign violations. But record-keeping variations made that challenging.

    California agencies, for instance, reported more than 75 suspensions, resignations and terminations between 2013 and 2015 arising from misuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System. But the records didn't specify the allegations.

    New Orleans to Remove Confederate-Era Monuments

    [NATL] New Orleans to Remove Confederate-Era Monuments

    The city of New Orleans will remove four statues of Confederate-era events and figures in an effort to divorce itself from symbols that some see as problematic. The first statue, the Liberty Place Monument, was taken down early Monday morning. 

    (Published Monday, April 24, 2017)

    Officers are only occasionally prosecuted, though one recent case involved retired New York Police Department sergeant Ronald Buell, who admitted selling NCIC information to a private investigator.

    Law enforcement officials have taken steps to try to limit abuse.

    The Florida Highway Patrol requires troopers to sign a disclaimer when they access the state's Driver and Vehicle Information Database. Miami-Dade police do quarterly audits in which officers can be randomly asked to explain searches, said Christopher Carothers, major of the professional compliance bureau.

    "The idea that police would betray that trust out of curious entertainment or truly bad intent, that's very disturbing and unsettling," Carothers said.

    Driver Flees Traffic Stop, Dragging Police Officer

    [NATL-DFW] Driver Flees Traffic Stop, Dragging Police Officer

    Body camera footage shows a Florida police officer being dragged by a driver attempting to flee a traffic stop.

    Police said Frank Wetzel, 61, was pulled over after blowing through a stop sign. Police said he started fidgeting with something next to him, making the officer suspicious. He was allegedly later found with a machete and handgun.

    (Published Monday, April 24, 2017)

    ____

    Tucker reported from Washington. AP writer Tom Hays in New York and AP video journalist Joshua Replogle in Akron, Ohio, contributed to this report.