9 Investigates cops abusing statewide database system

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SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. —

Drivers beware: A statewide database with your private information is being abused by some of the very people sworn to protect you.
 
It's called DAVID -- Driver and Vehicle Information Database, and it's a critical investigative tool when used for legitimate law enforcement purposes. However, Eyewitness News uncovered dozens of cases of law enforcement officers abusing DAVID.
 
And reporter Mario Boone discovered you could be a victim and never know it, unless you research for yourself and find out who has used DAVID to check up on your driving history.
 
Dee Dee Johnson knows firsthand about having her private driver's license information spied on.
 
“Every time a deputy gets behind me I get nervous,” Johnson told 9 Investigates.
 
Since 2010, she said that scores of state and local law enforcement officers used the DAVID database to inappropriately check her driver's license dozens of times. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement spreadsheet lists the dozens of times her personal information was accessed by law enforcement officers in central Florida and across the state.
 
"They get your photo, your address, your Social (Security number), your insurance information," Johnson said.
 
A DAVID search is supposed to be for legitimate criminal or law enforcement investigations, but she insists that wasn't the case when they checked up on her information.
 
"They have yet to give me any real legitimate reason to run any of these DAVID (searches)," she said.
 
But Oviedo police, which checked her file 49 times, said they did have legitimate reasons because Johnson was either the complainant or suspect in multiple cases. She was never arrested in any of those cases. But DAVID searches can be run on suspects, witnesses, victims and others, officials said.
 
Oviedo police cleared its officers of abusing Johnson's DAVID file, but she maintains it was a rubber-stamp investigation.
 
Right or wrong, Johnson is hardly the only one who has suspected abuse of the DAVID system.
 
Boone obtained a four-page list from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles showing dozens of other agencies have violated DAVID policies and procedures.
 
The list includes the Orange, Seminole, and Volusia county sheriff's offices.
 
All told, 155 police agencies self-reported abuse dating back to January 2013.
 
FDLE tracks and investigates misuse of DAVID, but it even made the list of abusers.
 
"It's dangerous to let it go on and on and on," said Chuck Drago, a law enforcement expert and retired police chief.
 
Drago insists that tougher penalties and random audits would send a clear message that DAVID abuse won't be tolerated.
 
"They need to hold them accountable,” Drago said. “They just can't let it go. They've got to be disciplined."
 
Right now abuse of the DAVID database isn't a crime. The only punishment an officer might face is the loss of his or her police certification. In fact, Boone found that last year seven law enforcement officers in Florida had their certification revoked as a result of abusing the system.
 
But Johnson is not confident that all of the abuse is being handled properly – or even identified.
 
"There is no safe harbor,” she said. “There is nobody to call.  The only thing you can do if you have the money is get a lawyer and sue."
 
Less than two weeks ago, Eyewitness News uncovered how former Seminole County deputy William Santiago-Gines admitted to using the DAVID database for non-law enforcement purposes.
 
Santiago-Gines accessed information on more than 125-people, including celebrities, co-workers and ex-girlfriends. Most had no idea he ran the searches until it came out following an internal investigation. Santiago-Gines resigned, and this month, FDLE stripped him of his law enforcement certification.
 
The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office said its investigation into the Santiago-Gines case “found that the records were accessed out of curiosity, and without malicious intent.”