A list of take-home vehicles with Colorado Springs Police Department officers' names and home addresses, as well as license plate numbers, turned up in the hands of drug dealers in mid-March, but Police Chief Pete Carey didn't address the issue with officers for six weeks.
Last month, Carey wrote an email to staff explaining that the 2014 list containing that personal information was found in the hands of drug traffickers to "identify possible undercover vehicles conducting surveillance."
But the information could be used for other purposes, says Todd Evans, El Paso County Sheriff's Office chief deputy of support. Evans, who's worked special details, including tactical units, says criminals have been known to break into officers' homes looking for weapons and police IDs. Retaliation also can be a motive.
"It's very dangerous," Evans said when asked about a take-home vehicle list landing in the wrong hands.
Carey's April 22 email to staff admits the department hasn't yet determined how the list escaped the department's control. "At this point, I cannot tell you if the list being compromised was the result of careless handling of the list or a deliberate act by someone who had access to the list," he wrote. "I certainly hope that it was not a deliberate act, but I don't know if we will ever know that for sure."
A source familiar with the compromised list says the CSPD investigation into how it lost control of the list has been shut down. But Mayor John Suthers said via a spokesperson, "The safety of our men and women of the Colorado Springs Police Department is an absolute priority for Chief [Pete] Carey, myself and the City of Colorado Springs. CSPD is investigating the incident."
Carey's April 22 email doesn't state how many take-home vehicles and officers' names were on the list, whether the list included undercover officers and how the department is investigating the breach.
Carey notes that since take-home vehicles "came under considerable scrutiny" several years ago, "we have made efforts to improve our record keeping in connection with our take home vehicles."
He was referring to a Gazette article in November 2009 that reported take-home vehicles used by police were driven more miles for commutes than they were driven to respond to calls, although that was difficult to conclude because mileage logs were incomplete or missing. The newspaper also reported at that time that take-home vehicles had been issued to deputy chiefs, commanders, several undercover officers and members of the SWAT team and K-9 unit.
In March 2010, the newspaper reported Carey, then a deputy chief under Chief Richard Myers, had imposed a new policy requiring mileage logs be kept and quoted him as saying, "I can guarantee you that there's going to be accountability and our compliance is going to be watched very closely." At that time, 85 department employees and volunteers were impacted by the policy, the Gazette said.
Now, CSPD spokesman Sgt. Joel Kern says in response to the Independent's questions, there are 139 take-home vehicles used by staff officers subject to call-out who also attend after-hours functions on CSPD's behalf. Others with take-home vehicles include lieutenants, sergeants, detectives, the Tactical Enforcement Unit (SWAT) and K9 members.
Carey says in the email to staff that his revamped program created the take-home list, which contained license plate numbers, make and model of vehicles, names, home addresses and work units of officers.
The list was found March 11 by the Strategic Information Center, a unit set up in 2011. The unit, consisting of intelligence detectives and civilian analysts, "had contact with a drug user who had photographs of portions of the 2014 take home vehicle list on their cell phone," Carey's memo says.
"We believe the entire list was compromised, so if you had a take home vehicle in 2014, you should assume that your name and address was on the list," he wrote.
Carey also notes the drug user told detectives the list had been sent to him on his phone four to five months before the March 11 discovery. "This individual also said that they believed at least two other drug dealers had possession of the take home vehicle list," the email said, adding one had photos of the list on a phone and the other "was reported to possibly have a hard copy of the list."
When the breach was discovered, a sergeant issued a notice on the Police Department's internal ETACS communications system informing employees the list had been compromised, Carey wrote. The department refused to release the ETACS entry.
In response to the Indy's questions, Kern said, "The safety concerns from the release as well as the confidentiality of information contained in the list are a high priority. When sensitive information is obtained by criminals, law enforcement is very concerned about the circumstances. ... For these reasons, CSPD continues to actively investigate the incident."
While the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association declined to comment, Evans says the Sheriff's Office's list of vehicles used for special operations, such as SWAT, is kept only by unit commanders. He says his partner, while working on a police force in Albuquerque, was targeted by gangs three times in burglaries after obtaining his home address.
"Gangs actually target law enforcement, because they know they will have guns in their houses," he says. "Or, just for retaliation, like in the Tom Clements type of thing." Clements, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, was gunned down at his Monument home on March 10, 2013, by an ex-con who was later killed in a shootout with police in Texas.
Detectives have since identified who they "believe is in possession" of the photographed list but haven't been able to track down that person, believed to be living out of state, Carey wrote. They will continue trying to contact that person, he added.
Going forward, Carey wrote, the 2016 take-home list has been revised to eliminate officers' names and home addresses; all former lists have been destroyed.
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