CDCR Law Enforcement

CA Officials Don’t Hold Agencies Responsible When Officers Misuse Police Databases

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

California’s law enforcement agencies hit record numbers of instances of misusing the state’s database network in 2016, according to an analysis of state data by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) is an information-sharing system that allows law enforcement officers to check DMV records, criminal records, gun registration information, missing persons files, a stolen vehicle system and dozens of other types of records in California, Oregon, and nationally.

In 2016, agencies in California reported 159 investigations into alleged misuse of databases, a 14.5% increase over the state’s 2015 figures, and a 50% increase over 2011. Scandal-plagued Oakland self-reported 17 cases of database misconduct—the highest number for any California agency in at least 7 years, according to EFF. Police have been found to use CLETS to stalk ex-lovers and spouses, screen dates, to get leverage in a custody battle, and worse. These numbers are only the tip of the iceberg, however, as many local law enforcement agencies—including the Los Angeles Police Department—fail to report their misuse data.

The CLETS Advisory Committee (CAC) was established by the state legislature many years ago to oversee CLETS. The 11 members of CAC are tasked with enacting policies and serving as a disciplinary committee. According to EFF, the majority of CAC members are “appointed by special interest groups that lobby for law enforcement and municipalities.” The result is a committee that is more inclined to back, rather than discipline, law enforcement officers. In addition, the group has a history of pushing through policies requested by police groups.

Agencies that use CLETS are technically required to provide CAC with disclosures about database violations that are investigated. The agencies are supposed to turn in a yearly summary of their misuse statistics.

But CAC hasn’t taken any action with regard to the database abuse. The committee hasn’t even looked at the data in years, according to EFF. CAC has reportedly never taken action against an individual or department.

CAC’s lenience has apparently left agencies without a sense of urgency or importance regarding their disclosures. A number of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies do not turn in the required data.

And many of the law enforcement agencies that do complete their paperwork, often list misconduct investigations as “pending,” and then fail to provide a follow-up on the investigations’ results.

Last year was the first year that Oakland turned in any disclosures at all, at least since EFF has been tracking the data. The timely disclosures may have something to do with a massive sex scandal that came to light last year.

Several Oakland PD officers enmeshed in the scandal were accused of misusing law enforcement databases for personal gain. (Read more about the sex scandal, which involved a minor, and more than a dozen Northern California officers: here and here.)

Of Oakland’s 17 disclosures, only one officer was found to have definitively misused CLETS. The other 16 are still pending.

The Oakland PD is one of the largest police agencies in the state. The much smaller Yuba County Probation Department has a history of database mishandling. In 2015, Yuba reported 15 cases, all of which resulted in “counseling” for the offending officers. And in past years, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office has been the agency that conducts the most CLETS violation investigations. This year, however, the sheriff’s office failed to file their disclosures with CAC.

EFF has been following this issue for years, and called for improvements to data tracking and oversight to catch the officers who abuse the system.

A bill making its way through legislature, SB 54, would, among other changes, limit federal government agencies’ ability to use California’s law enforcement databases—including CLETS—in order to carry out immigration enforcement. Unfortunately, EFF points out, the bill was amended to authorize immigration officials to access criminal history data through CLETS, creating a “backdoor to the very data the bill was designed to protect.” Despite its shortcomings, EFF supports the bill (and notable law enforcement groups oppose it) and its intended purpose of safeguarding California residents’ sensitive data.

11 Comments

  • Those who misuse and abuse CLETS make genuine stalkers and paparazzi look like child’s play. From the noisy next door neighbor to the ex wife or girlfriend’s new boyfriend, CLETS will provide ammo and info. Not to mention the private investigators who will “buddy up” to a cop to get information in return for future favors.

  • One thing that cops NEVER do is take accountability for wrong doing. It’s like it’s against a code for 1 cop to say that another was in the wrong, especially in a public setting. I mean you were there Celest when ur homeboy lee baca came our of court post sentencing and took no accountability for his wrong doing and proudly acclaimed how he would quietly go to prison and serve his time while he happily collects his two county pension’s if the appeals fail.

    • Lee Baca’s demonstrated absence of any sense of culpability could be stereotyped as a character trait found among law enforcement.
      a more enlightened analysis arrives at a distinctly different conclusion, although it also leans heavily on a stereotype.
      Lee Baca’s rejection of blame,
      his magnetic polar opposition to anything containing the smallest particle of guilt,
      his antiseptically purified conscious
      is a reflection of having perfected himself into a highly acclaimed status within his theological studies at the Church of Scientology.
      Baca has ascended to a perfect state of CLEAR.

  • Really Celest…You are such a fraud just like the LASD. You write these blogs exposing the bad from the LASD but you’re holding hands with Baca after the sentencing. I saw you…but you don’t want your readers to know. You’re just like ALADS, or should I say no better than ALADS.

    • Not sure where you work but please point out a link, a moment, a date where a cop has taken accountability for wrong doing, I’ll wait…

      To: Sure Fire

  • You said especially in a “public setting”, I’m sure I could find that. I was talking about taking accountability when under investigation by ones department, seen it happen more than once. Or does that not count?

    • Still waiting on those sources @surefire …@CF you are absolutely right but it’s unfortunate that the majority are the objector’s

  • Adam not Henry, you will never get Sure Fire or his ilk admit that a cop can do wrong. Quite the contrary, any indication that a cop did something wrong, and he will blame it on everyone else and a vast conspiracy, left wing in this case, that is out to get cops. A cop will shoot a black man in the back, and Sure Fire will say the black man was running backwards towards the cop in a “threatening manner” and the “reaching for his waist.” And, he says he “could find” those examples. I’m sure the world is full of those examples, just like Trump knows “millions of illegals” voted in the last election and thousands of Muslims were cheering at ground zero. Next he’ll say its a witch hunt.

  • Those who are so quick to point fingers at “bad cops” fail to remener they are mear mortals picked from the ranks of our society. Any quirks, imperfections, biasis, generational social norms and the like are well represented and perhaps empowered in these jobs. Society no longer has heroes, values them or puts them up for folks to admire and emulate. We are a society without respect for authority figures in and outside the family. Social media, You Tube and television are at their rawest, and no one has or respects the boundaries of others. Their are no consequences for people behaving badly since the “bar” to cross has been raised to the point of non-existence. Do whatever makes you feel good is the motto. So don’t expect law enforcement to behave any differently than the rest of society…they are but imperfect members of society as well.

  • CF I understand you’re functioning at the level of a grade schooler but I actually said cops have admitted to wrongdoing, I did once, a mistake in a pick six from a victim actually which was a no harm no foul thing that I corrected but “partly” my fault. You are a dim bulb dude besides being a liar a racist and a cowardly troll. Think that covers it for this post.

Leave a Comment