DuPage Sheriff's son given access to drivers license records
As a 17-year-old high school senior, Patrick Zaruba, the son of DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba, was given access to a law enforcement database even though he wasn't officially employed by the sheriff's department, the Better Government Association has learned.
The "less than full access" that the now 19-year-old Patrick Zaruba continues to have allows him to view — but not input data to — the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, which contains information about every licensed driver in Illinois.
That finding is part of an ongoing investigation by the BGA and WBBM Channel 2, which previously reported the younger Zaruba was allowed to accompany deputies on patrol and was videotaped in April 2011 chasing a suspect.
LEADS is to be used only for law-enforcement purposes, according to the Illinois State Police, which is the agency that oversees the database. State police officials said Patrick Zaruba was granted access after the sheriff's office helped certify him.
While state police officials said a department could get LEADS access for a teenage intern without violating protocol, representatives from more than a dozen sheriff's departments in northern Illinois said they don't let interns, ride-along participants or Explorers (many of whom are weighing a law enforcement career) use LEADS.
"We're very sensitive about LEADS and who gets access to it," said Lake County sheriff's police Chief Wayne Hunter. "There has to be justification."
When told of the situation in DuPage, Dave Bradford, executive director of Northwestern University's Center for Public Safety, called it "a violation of the public's trust."
He added: "If you're not a law enforcement officer, what purpose do you have for using LEADS?"
Law enforcement officers found to have used the system for personal reasons, or otherwise improperly, have been fired or reprimanded, officials said.
Neither Patrick Zaruba nor his father responded to numerous calls and emails on the teen's use of LEADS. A spokeswoman for the sheriff's office also didn't respond Thursday.
The BGA filed a formal request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which compels government agencies to release public documents, to learn whose information Patrick Zaruba has accessed, but the sheriff's office has declined to comply. As a result, the BGA filed a lawsuit Thursday in Cook County circuit court, claiming the sheriff violated state law by not producing the requested records.
Joseph Mazzone, general counsel of the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, the union representing rank-and-file deputies, said his group has fielded complaints from its members that Patrick Zaruba was using LEADS.
"There is absolutely no reason that a relative of any law enforcement official should have access to confidential law enforcement information," Mazzone said.
Patrick Zaruba, who is a student at Illinois State University, was given LEADS access in November 2010, when he was a 17-year-old senior at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, according to police records the BGA did obtain from state police.
Used by roughly 800 criminal justice agencies throughout the state, LEADS has vital records such as warrants, orders of protection and criminal histories. Users also have access to the National Crime Information Center, a federal version of LEADS with sensitive information on terrorists.
The process of becoming a certified LEADS user involves a two-hour course, passing an examination and undergoing a fingerprint-based background check, according to state police.
Patrick Zaruba completed those requirements with help from the sheriff's office. State police granted him what's known as "less than full access" — meaning he can view but not input LEADS data, according to public records obtained from the state police. His two-year certification expires in November.
A state police training manual states: "LEADS/NCIC training is only authorized for persons currently employed by a criminal justice agency."
However, state police Lt. Steve Lyddon said via email that's not a binding rule.
"Authorized users need not be paid, but must be under the management control of the criminal justice agency," Lyddon said. "In this case, the management control is being exerted over Patrick Zaruba by the DuPage County sheriff's office."
Lyddon said "authorized users can only access data for criminal justice purposes." It's unclear what criminal justice purpose Patrick would have for running LEADS searches.
John Zaruba previously disciplined an employee who was caught in late 2008 looking up a license plate on LEADS for a friend, according to county records.
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