Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Florida’s snooping cops abusing database

So much information. So little oversight. Too much temptation. Even for a police officer. Especially for a police officer.

They call it “Google for cops,” though that hardly describes the reach of D.A.V.I.D., which yields personal, private information of anyone with driver license. Supposedly, the Driver And Vehicle Information Database can only be used by cops in criminal inquires.

Abuse has been rampant.

Florida’s version of D.A.V.I.D. has provided snooping cops information about ex-wives, politicians, girlfriends, celebrities, attractive colleagues, unpopular cops.

Often, violations come with no real consequences. Earlier this month, Miami’s NBC 6 broadcast the latest in a string of media reports about cops abusing the database. NBC 6 found that 72 percent of the officers caught misusing the system got off with only a reprimand.

Over the last two years, stories about the misuse of the system have been piling up around Florida. A police officer in Clearwater was demoted after using D.A.V.I.D. more than 100 times to dredge up information on his ex-wife’s boyfriend, a TV news reporter and the ex-wives of his colleagues. A Hillsborough sheriff’s detective was suspended for 60 days after searching out info about colleagues, lawyers, a judge, celebrities, even members of his own family.

When NBC2 in Fort Myers looked into unauthorized D.A.V.I.D. searches by the Collier County Sheriff’s Department, reporters discovered that one deputy had searched out info on 151 people including the governor and two of the station’s female news anchors.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that an Oviedo police officer ran 19 searches on a bank teller he was trying to woo.

A Tampa police detective was fired in May amid allegations he had used the database — which includes full names, dates of birth, addresses, photos, Social Security numbers, vehicle information and telephone numbers of next of kin — to run a tax return scam. An IRS analysis found that about 4,600 of the names Detective Eric Houston searched also involved fraudulent income tax returns.

The most infamous abuse was directed at a fellow police officer. Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Donna Jane Watts filed a federal lawsuit in February claiming 88 law enforcement officers from 25 jurisdictions had illegally accessed her personal information more than 200 times in 2012. Police were outraged that Watts had chased down and arrested off-duty Miami Police Officer Fausto Lopez who had been going 120 mph down the Florida’s Turnpike in an unmarked car. (Lopez was later fired.) Using database info, her tormentors text-messaged threats to her cellphone, directed random calls to her home phone, sent pizza deliveries to her house and more.

The abusive officers were wrong, said Howard Simon, president of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “But the policy makers are equally to blame,” Simon said.

He complained authorities were habitually laggard when it came to oversight of invasive new police technologies.

But maybe they’ll respond to this particular problem: When investigators with the Florida attorney general’s office looked into reports of database abuse, they discovered cops had searched the name “Pam Bondi” 36 times.

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