Denver Watchdog Urges Steep Penalty For Crime Database Abuse

Denver's independent police monitor says officers caught using confidential criminal databases for personal reasons get only light punishments, allowing the abuse to continue.

The problem involves the National Crime Information Center, a database used by police across the country to catch criminals, recover stolen property and identify terrorism suspects.

Monitor Nicholas Mitchell says in a report released Tuesday that 25 officers have been punished for misusing the database for personal reasons since 2006. But Mitchell says most of them received only reprimands.

Those cases include an officer who looked up the phone number of a female hospital employee during a sex assault investigation and called her at home against her wishes. Another officer used the database to get a man's personal information on behalf of a friend, who then threatened the man.

Denver Police Department spokesman Sonny Jackson defended the department’s handling of those cases.

"If an officer misappropriately uses those databases, there’s an investigation – each one is looked at individually – and the chief determines what kind of punishment will this officer face, based on the abuse that has happened," Jackson said.

Jackson says the department is still reviewing the monitor’s report to look for areas for improvement.

According to data from the Independent Monitor, disciplinary actions last year led to the firing of one Denver police officer and four sheriffs’ deputies. 15 others resigned or retired before discipline could be imposed.

A representative for the Independent Monitor declined a request for comment.

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