ANAHEIM — Police officials on Wednesday acknowledged that they had disciplined an employee suspected of using a department computer to get information on a relative, and that they are considering tighter restrictions on the use of the computers.
Lt. Marc Hedgpeth, the administration bureau commander, said the department may limit the number of people authorized to use the computers and restrict the information employees can get.
"We're in the process now of taking a look at the different work sites in the department and making a determination about what each area needs," he said.
He said the amount of information available to the different divisions in the department may change as a result of two incidents in which a police computer was used to get information on people without authorization.
Hedgpeth said one employee was disciplined earlier this year after a two-month investigation. The employee, according to officials, used the computer to find out what kind of car a relative was driving. The employee, whose name was not released, called the relative, who then called police.
Police would not say what disciplinary action was taken.
In the other incident, police said earlier this month that someone used the police computer in November to look up the addresses of four abortion rights activists without authorization.
Several weeks after the computer search, abortion opponents protested at two of the activists' homes.
Police said the protesters denied learning of the addresses from an Anaheim police source. But, at the Police Department's request, the district attorney's office is conducting an investigation to see if any crime occurred.
Anaheim police said they do not know who looked up the information on the abortion rights activists.
In light of that incident, Hedgpeth said, the department now requires that all computer operators sign off their machine if they are going to leave it--even for a moment.
Hedgpeth said the incidents "are not a trend or something that we have to worry about."
"We run thousands of automated inquiries for (legitimate) purposes, and what we have now are what we believe to be two individuals who have abused that," he said.
The incidents point to the importance of how police records are kept confidential, particularly records accessible through computers, authorities said.
The information available through police computers includes home addresses of people, criminal records, car registration records, and warrants issued against people.
Police departments, as a general rule, allow only employees with a legitimate need to use the computers to get confidential information, several police officials in Orange County said Wednesday.
"The info you have there is essential to the running of the police department," said Lt. Robert Helton of the Santa Ana Police Department. "It's sensitive. It's confidential."
In a current example of alleged misuse of confidential Police Department information, San Francisco authorities are looking into allegations that former police officer Tom Gerard provided a private investigator with restricted information.
And in a recent Southland case, a former Los Angeles Police Department detective was charged last month with 15 misdemeanor counts of unlawfully using a computer and computer data available for personal gain and unlawfully disclosing Department of Motor Vehicle records.
Kati Corsaut, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, said people can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony if caught using a police computer for illegal purposes.