According to an Associated Press investigation, 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 their police work. Through multiple public records requests to state agencies and major-city police departments, AP found that officers were fired, suspended, or resigned over 325 times between 2013 and 2015 for misuse of confidential databases for personal gain. Unspecified discipline was also imposed in over 90 instances.
It was reported last year that in California, specifically, there is also rampant misuse and lack of oversight in the state’s Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) network. Confirmed cases of misuse in the state’s unified law enforcement information network have doubled over the last five years, according to public records requests obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation pursuant to the California Public Records Act. There are 389 cases between 2010 and 2014 in which an investigation concluded an officer broke the rules for accessing CLETS. And these figures only represent what was self-reported by the government agencies to the California Attorney General, so they are likely underestimated.
No single agency tracks how often the abuse happens nationwide, and record-keeping inconsistencies make it impossible to know how many violations occur.
These Actions Can Lead to Criminal Charges
In 2010, an officer had been sending his ex-wife abusive text messages and using CLETS to obtain information on her new boyfriends. He ultimately pled no contest to a misdemeanor harassment charge, but the charges for violating CLETS were dropped. It is against police department policy and state law to access CLETS for personal reasons. Currently, the CLETS Advisory Committee (CAC) has sole jurisdiction to investigate misuse investigations.
Other Penalties: Violations of State Ethics and Corruption Laws
All too often, misuse of confidential databases and information is connected to other behavior that can lead to criminal charges for corruption. For example, if one obtains confidential information about another state employee, juror, arbitrator, judge, or investigator for the purposes of bribing them, that is a felony that can be punishable by two to four years. Continue reading