Denver Police officers caught using a confidential database for personal reasons should face stiffer penalties, the city's independent monitor argued in a report released Tuesday.
The report, which reviewed both the Denver Police and the Denver Sheriff Department's performance for 2015, found several instances of officers abusing both the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and it's state counterpart, the Colorado Crime Information Center (CCIC). Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell said in the report that he believes the penalties for those caught aren't stiff enough to deter further abuse.
The database includes information about arrests, whether or not someone is a sex offender, alleged gang affiliations and missing persons. It also contains more sensitive information, like a person's home address, their immigration status and "personal information about victims of domestic violence who have obtained protection orders," the report said.
One officer, for example, was found to have used the database to assist an acquaintance who was going through a divorce determine the identity of the man he believed his wife was having an affair with. Then it spiraled out of control, possibly enabling violence from the vengeful ex-husband:
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.
The officer was issued a written reprimand for his involvement.
In another instance, a Denver Police officer who was at a hospital investigating a reported sexual assault made "small talk" with a female employee at the hospital who wasn't involved in the investigation. The report continues:
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.
That officer was fined two days' pay for misusing the database, and also given a written reprimand.
"NCIC and CCIC are sensitive criminal justice databases that contain significant amounts of personal information about community members," the report added. "When used appropriately, they can be powerful tools to investigate crime. 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 officers who misuse the databases do not reflect the seriousness of that violation, and may not sufficiently deter future misuse,” it added.
Denver Police spokeswoman Daelene Mix told the Associated Press the department only investigates cases after a complaint is filed. As such, it's difficult to know if the situations described in the report are isolated incidents or if the problem is more extensive.
The police department's 1,400 or so officers access the database hundreds of times a day, reports the Denver Post.
Other officers across the nation have allegedly used the NCIC for less-than-official reasons. In 2013, various New York Police Department officers were accused of using the database for personal gain, including officers who tipped off drug dealers, staged robberies and, in one particularly gruesome case, planned how to abduct and cannibalize women.
Around 90,000 agencies use the database 9 million times a day.