Minnesota cops accessed records of ex-officer 425 times
- Article by: MATT McKINNEY
- Star Tribune
- October 12, 2011 - 10:33 AM
Police officers in at least four agencies face warnings or disciplinary action for looking up the driving record of a northern Minnesota woman, whose data was accessed by police statewide 425 times in four years.
Anne Marie Rasmusson, a former cop who first heard rumors from other police officers that her records were being viewed repeatedly, said she's still not sure why people looked up her records and driver's license photo, or even if they have stopped doing so. "It's the scariest and most unsettling feeling I've ever experienced," said Rasmusson.
Recent revelations of snooping by police into people's driving records have given new urgency to the Department of Public Safety's effort to rein in the use of its Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) website, which stores drivers' records, photos and personal data such as home addresses and phone numbers. About 26,000 people have access to the website.
On Friday, private investigators learned that they will no longer have online access to the database, but must fax or mail requests for records. Fifty-six people in the past year have been banned from the site for misusing data, said Andy Skoogman, a spokesman for the Public Safety Department. Some bans lasted for three months, while others were indefinite.
Skoogman did not know the specifics of any of the bans.
Yet none of those situations caught the attention that has come with Rasmusson's case. The ex-officer who had worked in Eden Prairie and St. Paul called the Department of Public Safety in late August over fears that her driver records were being repeatedly accessed.
What she eventually learned shocked her: 104 officers in 18 agencies had looked at her records, including the headshot photo used for driver's licenses. "I honestly don't know why the officers are doing this," said Rasmusson. "I would like to know why this is being done, but first and foremost I want it stopped."
The agencies included police departments in Bloomington, Burnsville, Cottage Grove, Isanti, Lakeville, Eden Prairie, Eagan, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Minnetonka, as well as sheriff offices in Dakota, Ramsey and Pine counties, the Department of Corrections, the Minneapolis office of the FBI, Metro Transit, State Patrol and the University of Minnesota Duluth's police department.
Those agencies received a letter from the Department of Public Safety that identified the officers involved, said Skoogman. "It doesn't accuse anyone of misconduct but it does request that the agencies look into this matter," he said. As of Friday, eight agencies had responded, four of which said that one of its officers improperly looked at Rasmusson's records, Skoogman said.
State and federal laws dictate who can view driver records, and although law enforcement officials are allowed to view them, they must do so only in the course of their jobs. Rasmusson is under no investigation, Skoogman said. She said she doesn't have so much as a speeding ticket on her record.
Rasmusson went so far as to file a petition for a restraining order against one Minneapolis police officer, Jill Loonsfoot. The petition, filed Sept. 29 in Pine County District Court, says that her friendship with Loonsfoot ended in 2004. Since then, Rasmusson wrote, Loonsfoot has "repeatedly accessed my private data" on the DVS website.
"Given the frequent and seemingly obsessive queries she has done on me, as well as the statements she's made about her dislike for me, I am fearful for my safety," she wrote. Rasmusson said she's installed a security gate and camera on her property. Loonsfoot declined to comment on the matter when reached through the Minneapolis Police Department. Police spokesman Bill Palmer said he couldn't comment because an investigation is underway.
Rasmusson said she worries the officers who viewed her private data may get verbal coaching or light punishment, if anything, and that the system won't change significantly. "It's too widespread," she said. "There's no mechanism to prevent it."
About half of the 26,000 people with access to the state's website are police officers, said Skoogman. The others include probation officers, car rental agency employees, tow truck drivers and others, some of whom have limited access, he said. Skoogman said the Department of Public Safety monitors the database with monthly audits. Also, it runs the top 50 users, by volume, of records checked every week, looking for anomalies.
Public Safety Commissioner Ramona Dohman sent a letter Wednesday to Dave Pecchia, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, urging him to remind the state's officers about rules governing access to drivers' records.
Rasmusson, who was an officer in Eden Prairie for four years and in St. Paul for nearly three years before a work-related injury forced a 2003 retirement, said officers know it's illegal to look at driver's license data for personal reasons. "I don't think my case is isolated in any way," she said.
Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747
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