Noel HidalgoDenver police officers performed searches on state and federal criminal justice databases that were not work-related and instead were made to help officers’ in the romance department and to assist friends, according to an independent department monitor.
The report said that punishment, usually a written reprimand instead of being charged criminally, is not enough to deter future abuse of the National Crime information Center (NCIC) and the Colorado Crime Information Center (CCIC) databases.
“When used appropriately, they can be powerful tools to investigate crime,” the report stated. “But the misuse of these databases for personal, non-law enforcement purposes may compromise public trust and result in harm to community members. We believe that the reprimands that are generally imposed on DPD (Denver Police Department) officers who misuse the databases do not reflect the seriousness of that violation, and may not sufficiently deter future misuse.”
The report by Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell listed a host of wrongful searches, including an officer getting a phone number of a woman he met on assignment, and an officer running the license plate of a man for a friend who then stalked that person. None of the 25 Denver officers who abused the crime databases were charged with any access crime.
The harshest penalty was a three-day suspension.
Civilians who accessed the databases without authorization, however, most likely would be charged with hacking.
The databases include criminal records, home address, and immigration status, as well as other personal information about victims of domestic violence who have obtained protection orders. Juvenile arrest records are also included.
An unnamed officer received a written reprimand for the episode below, which led to stalking and threats:
On September 28, 2015, a man was parked at the Colorado Springs home of a woman he was dating.
The woman was in the middle of a divorce.
The woman’s soon-to-be ex-husband (‘‘ex-husband’’) saw the man’s car in the driveway, suspected his wife of having an affair, and took note of the car’s license plate.
Database records revealed that on September 28, a DPD officer (‘‘Officer A’’) ran the man’s license plate in NCIC/CCIC.
Shortly thereafter, the ex-husband began driving by the man’s house and threatening him.
The ex-husband also found and contacted the man’s wife to tell her that the man was having an affair.
The ex-husband told the wife that he knew their home address, showed her a picture of the man’s car, and asked her questions about the man to find out what gym he worked out at, what shift he worked, and where he spent his leisure time.
During an investigation, Officer A admitted that he knew the ex-husband, who called him to complain about the vehicle parked in front of his house.
The ex-husband said that he believed that his wife was having an affair, and asked Officer A to run the vehicle’s plate, which Officer A did.
In another incident, no discipline occurred:
A tow truck driver who frequently works with DPD officers was involved in a custody dispute with her ex-boyfriend regarding her teenage daughter.
She learned that her ex-boyfriend and daughter were given a ride by another individual (who was a friend of the ex-boyfriend).
According to the tow-truck driver, she called a DPD officer and asked him to run the license plate of the individual’s vehicle.
The officer did so and provided her with information about the individual.
The tow truck driver then spoke with the individual by phone and told him that she had personal information about him, including his home address.
During an investigation into the incident, the tow-truck driver expressed significant concern about the officer possibly getting into trouble, and said that she had explained her reason for wanting the officer to run the license plate before he did so.
The officer denied this, saying instead that he ran the plate because he thought that the tow-truck driver might have needed the information in connection with her official duties.
The officer was alleged to have misused NCIC/CCIC and to have improperly communicated confidential information.
The DPD and EDOS (Executive Director of Safety) found these allegations to be not sustained and unfounded, respectively, and no discipline was imposed related to this incident.
Another unauthorized access incident resulted in a written reprimand.
The unnamed officer was docked two days of pay for calling a woman he searched and “leaving an unwelcome voice message that upset” her:
On May 15, 2015, a female hospital employee spoke with a DPD officer who was at the hospital to investigate a reported sexual assault.
The female employee was not involved in the investigation, but the officer made ‘‘small talk’’ with her after his interview of the sexual assault victim.
At the end of her shift, the female employee returned home and found a voicemail message from the officer on her personal phone.
She had not given the officer her phone number, and was upset that he had obtained it (she assumed) by improperly using law enforcement computer systems.
During an investigation into the incident, records revealed that the officer had, in fact, used the NCIC/CCIC database (and other DPD databases) to obtain her phone number, and the officer ultimately admitted to this conduct.
The Denver Police Department does not audit officers’ use of the databases but investigates complaints of abuse.
Sonny Jackson, a Denver Police spokesman, said Chief Robert White views each incident case by case “and recommends the discipline he feels is appropriate.”
There’s been reports across the country of officers wrongly accessing criminal justice records for their personal use, sometimes resulting in criminal punishment.
And sometimes police officers abuse the database to troll their own.
In 2012, for example, Minneapolis paid out $1 million to a former female police officer whose driver’s license record was looked up more than 400 times by fellow officers.