portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article announcements united states

police / legal

New police database profiles "suspects" rather than just convicts

Yeah, I know it has been a long time since I posted, but this article drifted across my computer screen today (odd that I hear about police news from the newspaper rather than, ya know, the police). To sum it up: a new federal database soon to be accessible by local cops, that is pretty normal in all respects but one: it now carries info on individuals considered suspects. Not just "convicts," people proven to be guilty. Thoughts?
(Yes I am a cop. No, there is no fucking way I will tell you which agency I work for, and you can figure out why on your own. Feel free to come up with a cointelpro theory, I love those.)

 http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061229-8522.html
This is the original story.


Ok, reasonable people can disagree on a couple points here, so let's get those out of the way.

1) Police can be bad. It's unfortunate. We get that. Moving on.
2) Police often make mistakes. Some of them are human error that we would all make, some of them are things we can loosely lump into the "Nazi totalitarian bully" group.
3) Suspects are considered innocent (theoretically) by the courts until proven guilty. There is not, and never has been, a societal expectation that the police and DA consider suspects innocent (otherwise they would be unable to suspect them of anything).
4) If we accept that, in theory, the job of police is necessary (if badly done), then they do need access to information to do the job. Yes, I know that in an ideal society people would simply use peer support/pressure to rein in crime, and all citizens would be trained in first aid/public safety as well as having equipment stashed at points accessible to all in time of emergency. . . But this is the world we have and cops are the reality.


Sorry folks, had to get that out of the way. Now, about this database. Right now, police have this thing called "NCIC," The National Crime Information Computer. It is really basic, and all cops have access to it. It lists the serial numbers of stolen items, the basic information (age, height, tattoos, aliases, etc) of runaway children, fugitive adults and missing persons, and other things like restraining orders. Basically this thing is only useful to the cops when they run into a person and "run them through the computer." If you are in this database, YOU LIKELY KNOW YOU ARE IN THIS DATABASE. This is important. You only get in this database when you are convicted of a crime, or if cops, the DA and a judge have all agreed that you should be brought in for trial. If your property is in here, it is because you or somebody else has made an official report of it being stolen. Otherwise, you are only in there if you are missing and your loved ones worry about you.

In other words, if you are in NCIC, ya did something. Or at least several people are convinced ya did.

This NEW database has lots of other bells and whistles, but the main thing is that SUSPECTS are in it. That means that if a cop just THINKS you did something (and that is wide open to interpretation. I "think" people do things all the time, does that entitle me to putting them in a nation-wide computer system that will result in constant problems, possibly forever? I don't believe so. I have been wrong, often, at least ten times this week), you are in. And you don't know about it.

And you don't have a legal way to find out if you are in there.

You can make friends with a cop and ask them to run you to see if you are in there, or bribe one, or purposely get pulled over to see what comes up when the cops run you, but all of these are bad ideas. Cops don't want to get caught breaking the rules (I know, I know, bear with me), and the last option may result in very bad things for you if the computer is glitchy.

So, solutions? Folks, when a COP, even if it is the token lefty-liberal-carless-civil-rights-whacko cop that trolls here, tells you this new law enforcement tool can be a problem, take it seriously.

Ideas?

There is one I have, and I honestly do not know how feasible it really is. The feds, who own the computer system, can easily stop this. But we could pressure the city council (in Portland, and maybe a few other local cities) to make it mandatory that the police disclose any info on you in the database. Something reasonable like "If you show up at the local precinct during office hours with valid ID proving you are not snooping on somebody else and pay $5, the police SHALL provide you with a printout of any information on you in the new database." It stands a chance.

I am open to other suggestions.
Already happening 31.Dec.2006 10:47

W

The new database is concerning.

However, the NCIC already provides personal information about mere suspects. A file included in the NCIC is the domestic component of the Federal terrorism watchlist. The file is identified as the Violent Gangs and Terrorist Organization File (VGTOF).

The VGTOF is the vehicle by which the Terrorist Screening Center's Database is made most available to local, state, and federal law enforcement in the domestice U.S.. That file already contains information on mere suspects---including persons being investigated or profiled for engaging in First Amendment protected political activity.

The new database will further the concerning trend of stigmatizing persons with criminal or "terrorist" labels without due process of law. Such acts make information more widely available to Law Enforcement, while undermining the rule of law and human rights here in the U.S.

I encourage folks to google VGTOF.

Thanks.

Organized crime may welcome DOJ Data Base because 01.Jan.2007 14:58

Richard Lake

Re:Justice Dept. Database Organized crime may welcome DOJ Data Base because DOJ plans to allow all U.S. law enforcement to look at each other's records: We Frequently read reports in publications of local police being arrested for illegal drug activity among other crimes. Obviously local cops involved in corruption may not hesitate to sell DOJ database information to organized crime, including drug-traffickers. Or sell DOJ Data Base information to the increasing number of quasi-government-agents that operate as private contractors paid by state and federal government to cause the arrest of targeted people and/or seize their property. The DOJ plan that will allow all U.S. law enforcement to look at each other's records will provide a data-mine for criminals and corrupt police. There will be no stopping where DOJ's Data Base information will go, even its erroneous and garbage information. Currently it takes a crowbar to get information out of the FBI. And for local police, for some it may take only a few drinks at a bar for a sheriff to voluntarily spread local investigative police information to fellow bar patrons. Historically the FBI has been smart about not giving away its investigative information to local police. I believe it can be successfully argued that FBI agents have higher IQs than local cops. And that the public will be better off if the FBI is careful about the information they share with local police departments.