Monday, April 25, 2011

How much access is too much access?

Actually, I have no problem believing it can happen.

The “it” in this case is police officers using their computers that give them access to reports of many criminal cases getting bored enough to look up the reports about a pending case involving a pair of patrol officers who allegedly had sex with an intoxicated woman while they were on duty.

IT SEEMS THAT the reports of that case have been accessed on internal computers by more than 1,000 officers – far more than are actually involved with the case in any way.

That is what has the Internal Affairs division of Chicago police trying to figure out every single person who used their computer to read the report – and why they felt compelled to do so.

They also want to know if any detailed information from those reports wound up getting disseminated to sources that the police would have preferred not to see such reports.

There’s no word at this point how many police could be disciplined, or what such discipline would be. In fact, the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents Chicago Police is defending the cops by saying there’s nothing wrong with using one’s work computer to look up work-related records.

WHAT I FIND “believable” about this incident is the idea of a bored police officer passing the time away by looking up stray information – just for mental kicks.

Just think of how many times you have sat in front of a computer screen and wasted away time looking up stray bits of information or trivia that you really didn’t need to know in order to get on with your life. For all I know, that is what you are doing right now while stumbling onto this weblog.

Maybe you typed in a search for “police” or “investigation.” Or maybe your mind delved into the gutter and you worked the word “sex” into your phrasing for a search engine.

If you did that, I would guess that you are very disappointed right now, because this particular commentary is not going to give you titillating details about anything.

THE PROBLEM IS that police officers using the department’s computers have access to more detailed information than we’re going to be able to get on our own personal computers. There’s always the risk of some crucial detail somehow getting out – even inadvertently.

FOP officials may think it wrong to restrict what one is able to access on a department computer. But perhaps we have bigger problems to consider.

This is a particular situation to consider when it comes to police because law enforcement is so much more computerized these days. Just about every squad car these days has a lap top computer installed with proper hookups so that officers can get tons of personal information that could be of use to them while also being able to take a lot of physical abuse (as I once heard a computer salesman tell a suburban police department, his system was designed to operate even while riding over railroad tracks and pothole-filled roads AND with multiple cups of coffee being spilled onto the keyboard).

In this case, it seems we have some bored police officers who wanted to know “the skinny” on the case that cropped up in the news about a month ago – where a 22-year-old woman says she was stopped by two Town Hall District (near Wrigley Field) officers riding around in a marked SUV (making it clear that it was a Chicago Police Department vehicle), was forced to play “strip” poker in her home, and also coerced into having sex with the police both in the vehicle and in her residence.

CRIMINAL CHARGES HAVE not been filed against the officers, but both have been suspended while that incident is being investigated.

Now, Internal Affairs has to do another investigation on top of that – one to determine if this is just a case of cops who wanted to read a titillating detail or two, perhaps about an officer they knew or maybe just because there was nothing else to do at that moment.

Or do we have a more serious abuse of authority here? Is the “misuse of department equipment” so bad that discipline is going to have to be handed down?

Not that such discipline is going to be that severe. News accounts of the Internal Affairs memo sent out last week to everybody in the police department indicates that officers could receive a written reprimand that would stay in their records for one year. After which, it would be removed and forgotten.

WHICH MEANS THAT police officers might well have to learn the lesson that many of us have learned the hard way about using computers – don’t go looking up anything that you wouldn’t want someone else to know you’re seeing.

Because, inevitably, they WILL find out. They always do.


No comments: