Official use only E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

The fact that cops use public safety databases for a lot more than official duties is relatively common knowledge. That’s why no one was too surprised when one cop told another in the recent film, “End of Watch,”  he “ran” his current girlfriend through the system. But while the practice is well-known and widespread, that doesn’t make it any less illegal — even if for the most part it constitutes a “victimless crime.”

And according to a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel, Florida's driver-and-vehicle database known as D.A.V.I.D., for Driving and Vehicle Information Database is increasingly being misused by police officers.

Data obtained by the Orlando Sentinel show the number of Florida law-enforcement officers suspected of misusing D.A.V.I.D. has seen a huge increase in a short time.

At least 74 law enforcers were suspected of misusing D.A.V.I.D. in 2012. To get some perspective that represents about a 400 percent increase from the year prior, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Cops that pull information from D.A.V.I.D. that is not related to official police business can face criminal charges, sanctions and disciplinary action.

Last Fall, an internal Oviedo police investigation found one of the agency's officers made unauthorized searches in D.A.V.I.D. to get personal information for a local bank teller he was reportedly flirting with.

Oviedo police reports said Sgt. Dwayne Walker, who resigned amid the probe, used his D.A.V.I.D. account to run 19 separate searches using the first name of the bank teller and her race as part of the search criteria.

Generally this issue doesn’t get a lot of media attention.

But that changed last year when Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Donna "Jane" Watts found herself at the center of a firestorm after she pulled over a speeding police officer at gunpoint in South Florida. She has now filed a federal lawsuit against more than 100 officers and agencies, alleging 88 law enforcers from 25 agencies viewed her private information more than 200 times.

When a law-enforcement officer logs into D.A.V.I.D., he or she is told the system is subject to monitoring and audits to prevent improper use. Officers are not to use D.A.V.I.D. for personal use and cannot share or copy the information, which includes emergency contacts.

An FDLE spokeswoman said there is no known reason why the number of cases involving suspected improper use of D.A.V.I.D. spiked from 15 in 2011 to 74 last year.

One of the issues with misuse appears to be boredom.

The database is readily available to officers with laptops in their patrol cars meaning the system has massive potential for abuse.

Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle records obtained by the Orlando Sentinel show Florida police made dozens of searches for newsmakers Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman.

It’s unclear how many of those inquiries were for personal interest as opposed to official police business.

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