An officer with Guernsey Police has been dismissed from service for using a trust-based police database to track down young women before contacting them on Facebook and Instagram.
Stephen Richard Woods, the offending police officer, claimed in Court that he looked up information about certain women on a trusted police database as he was hunting for models for his fitness-based Instagram pages, namely The Model Comic, The Fitness Comic, and GGZ World. This claim was rejected by the Court.
Woods took pictures of the victims’ vehicle number plates and then ran their vehicle registration numbers through the Joint Emergency Services Control Centre where police offers could obtain driver records, the Guernsey Press said.
Woods joined Guernsey Police in April 2018 but the first complaint against him was filed in July this year, a couple of months before he was to be transferred to the Cambridge Constabulary at his own request. Thanks to an investigation by Guernsey Police that began on 15th July, Woods was dismissed from service on 14th August.
When rejecting his defence, Judge Gary Perry said that Woods’ interest in women “was more than just about comic book drawings”. “You have just added fuel to the conspiracy theorist and fanned the flames of mistrust to a portion of our society,” he said.
According to Guernsey Press, Guernsey Police found that on several occasions, Woods either stalked or engaged in conversations with young women drivers before following them on road in his police car. He later contacted them on Instagram, indicating that he had taken down their vehicle registration numbers and ran them through the police database. The paper said that these activities went on for more than a year prior to his dismissal.
Woods was found guilty on nine counts of breaching the Data Protection (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law 2017, He is presently in the UK and is carrying out 150 hours community service as directed by the Magistrate’s Court.
While what Woods did is a terrifying act in the eyes of privacy-conscious citizens, especially young women, he is certainly not an exception as police officers have been found misusing sensitive data for personal reasons on hundreds of occasions.
A Freedom of Information request filed by security firm Huntsman Security revealed that between January 1st, 2016 and April 10th 2017, there were as many as 779 instances of abuse of IT systems and sensitive personal data by UK police personnel. As many as 603 cases of potential misuse of data were identified by the report in 2016 alone.
According to the PEEL: Police legitimacy 2016 report, that aimed to determine how forces treated people with fairness and respect and whether they were acting fairly and lawfully, almost half of the police forces were unable to audit or monitor the use of all of the forces’ IT systems.
This impacted the forces’ ability to spot officers or staff who may have accessed force systems to identify vulnerable victims. An exception to this rule was the South Yorkshire Police who scanned phone numbers dialled from force mobiles and landlines to identify and punish errant personnel.
“In some forces, this lack of more active intelligence-gathering results from insufficient capacity and capability within counter-corruption units. Forces must address this situation urgently, so they can tackle this type of corruption early and in doing so prevent vulnerable people from being abused,” the report added.
“These statistics underline just how complicated data protection really is. Regardless of whether they are a police force or a pension fund, all organisations need to make sure that their data is being stored and used correctly by all personnel. Critically, they need to be able to continuously monitor to ensure that this is the case,” said Peter Woollacott, CEO, Huntsman Security.