Cops abuse police databases to look up women’s information, says new report

Much of America doesn’t fully trust law enforcement, and a new report by the Associated Press suggests yet another unsettling example of police abusing their power. According to the AP, police have been using databases to access women’s private information, often used to harass them, as well as neighbors, journalists, politicians, romantic partners, exes, and really anyone they feel like. No group of people is immune to being stalked by police with access to private databases, but as the AP notes, these issues “frequently arise from romantic pursuits or domestic entanglements.”

The report notes a particular Ohio officer who used a confidential database to find information about an ex-girlfriend, whom he later pled guilty to stalking. One Florida woman alleged in a lawsuit she received “prank calls, threatening posts on law enforcement websites, and unfamiliar cars that idled near her home” after police accessed her private information through a confidential database. A Colorado-based woman working at a hospital in which an officer was investigating a sexual assault case told the AP the officer went on to look her up and call her.

According to another report by the Minneapolis City Pages, one former female police officer, learned more than 100 officers from 18 agencies had accessed her private records 425 times, in many cases just to look at her photo. Slate notes the case of one police officer who used confidential databases to stalk, and later murder, his third wife, and was allegedly similarly researching his fourth wife prior to her mysterious disappearance.

The issue is clearly, at least to an extent, a gendered one. Women appear to disproportionately be on the receiving end of unwarranted private database look-ups, often to be stalked or subjected to domestic abuse.

While the report notes that a substantial 325 law enforcement employees nationwide were fired or resigned for database misuse between 2013 and 2015, and 250 have been merely reprimanded for this, obviously, there’s no way to definitively track how much abuse is happening. “If we know the officers in a particular agency have made 10,000 queries in a month, we just have no way to [know] they were for an inappropriate reason unless there’s some consequence where someone might complain to us,” Carol Gibbs, a database administrator with the Illinois State Police, explained to the AP.

It’s already a violation of privacy and consent to look up and use a phone number a woman hasn’t willingly given, but it’s really not OK to access even more confidential information and go on to use it to commit crimes against her. Unfortunately, as prevalent an issue as this one might be, it’s exceedingly difficult to keep track of, and as a result, exceedingly difficult to do anything about.