Police officers who have been improperly snooping through the arrest records of high profile private citizens should be fired. If they are not, Attorney General Coakley should conduct an open and transparent investigation, and consider prosecutions for violations of various privacy statutes.
A recent audit determined that Massachusetts police officers were abusing the criminal history system to run checks on local celebrities. According to NPR, Tom Brady topped the list of searches, with over 900 checks. Not only is this a profound waste of taxpayer time, but it is also unprofessional and possibly illegal. Though this may sound trivial, it is illustrative of a culture of power abuse among many Massachusetts police officers.
To be fair, most police officers are professional and do a reasonably good job. Yet even among good cops there is a code of silence, preventing the public from holding accountable those who abuse power.
I have had many conversations with prosecutors about situations in which police officers have inappropriately intervened in a case on behalf of a family member or friend. While most prosecutors would not admit to abiding by such requests, they are not in a good position to refuse. Once a prosecutor gets a reputation among police officers for not being “friendly,” suddenly the entire department stops returning their calls. The officers don’t show up for that Assistant District Attorney’s cases, and the prosecutor cannot perform his job properly.
Just like judges and prosecutors, police officers are entrusted with sensitive information, which the public expects them to handle responsibly. Accordingly, they ought to be held to a higher standard than private citizens. While firing them for what seems like a relatively innocent mistake borne from simple curiosity may seem draconian, failing to do so would be a tacit acceptance of misconduct. It is time that the police community be put on notice.
It is never politically popular to take on the police and police unions. The police community knows this, and uses it to leverage benefits that no other public servants enjoy. (Think $80/hour to do nothing at a construction site.)However, the public has every right to expect that officers charged with enforcing the law will abide by it. If this message does not get through to the upper echelons of the barracks and precincts, Attorney General Coakley should step in.