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Local case highlights what can, can't be done with state police database

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Wednesday, August 8, 2018  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach

Crime (28) , Police (28) , State Police (84)
Questions about a local chief's use of a statewide police database to look up critics of the mayor once again raised questions about abuse of the Illinois State Police system.

ISP offers local law enforcement a way to instantly look into the legal status as well as someone’s criminal history. And although there are restrictions for using the tool – misuse can cost an officer and their entire department access – there are many examples of misconduct.

The Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, or LEADS, is offered to Illinois’ 800 criminal justice agencies as a way to instantly find driver license files, criminal records and national databases and other information.

“LEADS maintains records entered into the Computerized Hot Files (CHF), which are generally wanted/missing persons and stolen property files, such as stolen vehicles,” Illinois State Police Public Information Officer Matt Boerwinkle said.  

Each officer who uses LEADS, Boerwinkle said, is trained on the system. And their search history isn’t private.

“All LEADS inquiries are retained by ISP on a computer transaction log,” he said. “The contents of this log are subject to LEADS dissemination restrictions.”

Misusing LEADS can result in the officer losing access and possible punishments for the entire department, although that’s not happened since at least 2002, Boerwinkle said.

There have been a number of instances where law enforcement officials have used the program for questionable purposes.

One DuPage county sheriff let his teen son use the system. A police officer-turned serial rapist in Bloomington used the system to find information on his victims. An Associated Press investigation found that law enforcement officers and employees misused databases and were either fired, suspended or resigned more than 325 times from 2013 to 2015. Kankakee’s acting police chief, Price Dumas, has recently landed himself in hot water over using LEADS to look up critics of the mayor who posted pictures of her city-owned vehicle on social media.

Ed Yohnka, director of communications with ACLU Illinois and a Kankakee County native, said recent misuses of LEADS underscore the need for better security against bad actors to ensure privacy.

“What kind of controls do you put in place to ensure that the information isn’t misused,” he said.

While the search history of Dumas was leaked to a reporter, the Illinois State Police does not share an officer’s search information with the public. In a denial of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Illinois News Network for Dumas’ full search history since he was appointed last June, an ISP official said it's against state policies.

Illinois State Police Freedom of Information Officer Erin Davis said the information may be part of an ongoing criminal investigation.