(MintPress) – Minnesota residents were shocked to learn this month that law enforcement officials were illegally accessing drivers license databases to obtain knowledge on the state’s citizens.
While the case initially painted the picture of a few bad apples, a new study reveals that’s not the case. The audit, conducted by the state’s legislative auditor, Jim Nobles, revealed the practice was widespread, including 99 law enforcement personnel.
And it’s not just in Minnesota.
In Florida, the Driving and Vehicle Information Database (DAVID), saw an increase of mistreatment in 2012 at the hands of law enforcement officials. The Orlando Sentinel reported in January that more than 70 law enforcers were suspected of accessing DAVID out of turn.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Statistics show a jump of improper use of the database from 15 in 2011 to 74 in 2012.
Of those officers who took liberty to access the database, many of them were doing so for strictly personal reasons. In one case, an officer looked up the information of a local bank teller whom he thought was flirting with him, according to the Sentinel.
Sgt. Dwayne Walker, the man accused of accessing the bank teller’s information, resigned after the discovery was made — he ran 19 separate searches for the bank teller, reports revealed.
In Minnesota, the audit revealed that more than half of the 11,000 law enforcement officials in the state looked up themselves or people with the same name, according to the Star Tribune. Yet only 78 names were cleared for more scrutiny.
In Minnesota, the state is looking into drafting and passing legislation that would help ease the problem, but at the center of the issue is the violation of trust that has been encountered among the very people who serve as honorable gatekeepers.
The misuse of power is also calling into question whether that honor system can be held throughout other states in the nation. Without the audit conducted by Minnesota, which was only due to one isolated case gaining attention, legislators and residents never would have known about the widespread abuse.
Yet in states like Massachusetts, law enforcement officials are being given a greater opportunity to break privacy laws. Police are now being given the power to access databases regarding prescription drug prescriptions.