A police officer drives over to a rundown motel in his patrol area and slowly cruises through the parking lot indiscriminately running license plates. Lo and behold! A plate returns as stolen and the description matches. He lets dispatch know he is okay and will wait awhile to see if anyone comes out to the car. He requests another officer to respond and wait a short distance away.
He is in luck. Within 40 minutes, a male subject approaches the vehicle and starts to get in. Both officers quickly block the car in and they make an arrest.
The call came in from a mother who was worried about her son. She believes he may be doing drugs again and wants an officer to check on him. She gives her sons personal information (name, date of birth, and last known location, etc) which the officer runs through the system. She does a criminal history check and sees the sons arrests for drug possession. The officer also checks the address given and then the criminal history of the homeowner. The homeowner also has a history of drug charges. Officers go to the address and find the son. Ultimately arresting him and the homeowner on drug possession charges.
ALL THE TIME
Driving down the road, an officer spots a vehicle he likes. Likes in the sense that he thinks he might find treasure on board. A slightly beat up car and the driver seems “squirrelly”. The driver has not committed any traffic violations, so the officer hangs back and just follows for awhile. He runs the license plate, acquiring the license information of the registered owner. He then runs the registered owner through the system and a felony warrant pops up. It also shows the owner’s license is suspended. The driver makes a lane change without using a signal. Just what the officer needs, a simple violation for unsafe lane change that gives him probable cause (PC) for a stop. He pulls the car over and discovers the driver is not the owner. The driver and the vehicle are ultimately released without a cite.
Quick recap: The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is monitored and maintained by the FBI. Each state in the US has their own in-state CIC monitored by the designated state police agency. The usage rules and policies of the system are set by the FBI and essentially copy/pasted to the respective manuals of each state.
Each incident summarized above actually occurred. Many more just like them have and will continue to occur. Quiz time!
Q: Which of these officers committed a felony?
If you answered ALL of them, you win Cancer-aids! (that’s how that works, right?)
Yes, each one committed a felony violation with a standard sentence of six to 18 months, with a presumptive sentence of one year.
Did any of these officers get so much as a slap on the wrist?
Incident one: There was no PC for the officer to be running the plate of a stationary vehicle not parked illegally. The property did not call for police assistance, so at no point, did the officer have any legal reason to be there. The case was thrown out at trial.
Incident two: Running a subjects criminal history without an active investigation is a violation of the system. The officer had no probable cause, only the word (over the phone!) of someone stating that they are the parent of the person in question (which still is not PC even!). A criminal history is not Miss Cleo even if the police like to think it is. Mom actually came through for her son and hired a decent lawyer that got that case tossed too. I hope she got him into rehab also.
Incident three: A license plate, by its very nature, is not covered under any privacy laws. Especially as you are driving down a public roadway. Running a wants/warrants check on the legal owner of a moving vehicle whom you have not proven is even in said vehicle is a violation. If this were a violation that could be consistently *ahem* policed, there would be a lot less officers. If you live in a mid-to-large-sized US city, this situation has occurred several times in your area—–today!
If the owner had been in the vehicle, they would have had a difficult time (if they even thought of it as most people do not) proving that the officer violated the system to get that information. It would involve a FOIA request in order to get timestamps from the officers on board CIC terminal. You will get the runaround from the agency in question each and every fucking time. Promise. Again, this is not information that most citizens know to search for let alone find.
Sometimes, a lot of times actually, on Wednesday mornings after I post, I wonder: should I maybe provide something lighter or even just a tad less heavy to start your fucking day with? Not only do I want to share this information with you for your knowledge base, I would like to avoid adding to any despair. I know, I know. I will try.
McSquirrel! Yada, yada, yada!