Officers abusing power with driver and vehicle database

by: Catherine Varnum Updated:


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Action News obtained a list that shows every time a police officer abused their power to access a statewide database and look up your information.

Agencies across the state searched Jeffrey Gray's name 296 times. "I document public officials in public spaces," said Gray. Those agencies include the Jacksonville, Clay County and St. Johns County sheriffs offices. "I haven't committed a crime. I'm not sure how it could've been legit," said Gray.

A DAVID search is only for legitimate criminal investigations. Agencies across the state self reported 324 abuses since 2010. The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office had 4 violations, including a dispatcher. According to a report we obtained, Molly Davis used the DAVID system 365 times in a three month span. All but one were suspicious and did not have a case number associated with them.

Davis resigned last year. Davis told Action News by phone the cases she looked up were legitimate and that she resigned for other reasons.

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper's agency had the most violations in our area with 10 improper searches by deputies since 2013. "Some are taking the easy way out," said Leeper. "It's a training issue."

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Sheriff Leeper admits officers misused the system and gave us the reports detailing the problems. Leeper tells us in some cases, officers looked up information they shouldn't even have access to in order to track people down. "If you can't find someone through investigating, it's the easy way out, so work harder," said Leeper.

According to data we obtained from the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Clay County Sheriff's Office had three violations and JSO had 9. But neither agency provided us with any additional information about what those violations entailed. "That's another intrusion of our privacy," said Action News Law and Safety expert Dale Carson.

Carson isn't surprised by the number of abuse of power cases. In fact, he was surprised it wasn't higher. "You're driving down, you see someone you would like to know, you get the tag and run it," said Carson.

Many local officers caught abusing the search engine were only reprimanded. Carson said they think they can get away with it, like other big agencies have. "What can they say, they were checking for some sort of BOLO," said Carson. "The NSA is looking at phone records with no probable cause, just because they can."

Gray hopes with so many people looking at  his private information, it  doesn't fall into the wrong hands. "Even though they have restrictions, it's supposed to be used for investigative purposes, but they still go look at your information," said Gray.

Police don't have to tell you whether officers have illegally accessed your information, but you can call the DMV and ask for a report. However, it will cost you money if it takes longer than 30 minutes for the DMV to get the information.