Drew Peterson, the former Bolingbrook, Ill., police sergeant suspected of murdering his third and fourth wives, is now also under investigation for police misconduct. New evidence suggests that Peterson used official law-enforcement databases to check up on his fourth wife and her associates before she disappeared. Peterson's attorney says it was common practice for Bolingbrook police to run checks for friends and family, and to run prank names to alleviate boredom. What can the police learn about you from these database queries?
Your name and aliases; your Social Security number; where you live; when you were born; the color of your skin and eyes; any scars, tattoos, or identifying marks; your height, vision, and gender; what kind of car you drive, whether it's a stolen vehicle, and your license and plate numbers; your traffic violation history; your local, state, and federal criminal history; and your fingerprints
Local police gather this information from five main databases. A search of records from the state registration agency (called the "Department of Motor Vehicles" in most places) yields information on your car and to whom it's registered. There's another archive of driver's license records, kept in some states by the DMV and in other states by a separate licensing agency, which has facts on where you live, your driving record, and sometimes a digital copy of your license photo. Outstanding arrest warrants will show up in a third database, and a person's criminal history can be found in either the local police records or the federally operated National Crime Information Center database, which culls from local, state, and federal files. (Some police agencies also subscribe to research tools that are available to the general public, like LexisNexis and credit reporting services.)