Sheriff Gives Teenage Son Access To Police Database

DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba not only let his high school-aged son go on ride-alongs with deputies and participate in arrests, the teen was given access to a confidential police database containing information on all licensed drivers in Illinois. The BGA is suing to find out whose data was accessed.

The teenage son of DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba is too young to be a deputy and isn't officially employed by his father's agency.

Yet, when he was still in high school, the sheriff’s department allowed then-17-year-old Patrick Zaruba to access a confidential law enforcement database with information about every licensed driver in Illinois – as well as potentially sensitive intelligence on gangs, fugitives and stolen vehicles, among other things.

Those are the findings of a still-unfolding investigation by the Better Government Association and CBS2, which previously reported that the younger Zaruba was allowed to "ride along" with on-duty deputies, and participate in arrests and chases, even though he wasn’t a cop and, in fact, was a student at Wheaton Warrenville South High School.

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DuPage County Sheriff
John Zaruba

The latest discovery – that Patrick Zaruba was given access to the Illinois Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, or LEADS – is raising questions not only about whether procedures were properly followed, but whether the rules need to be re-evaluated.

Routinely enlisted by police officers through squad-car laptops, LEADS is only supposed to be used for law-enforcement purposes, according to the Illinois State Police. The agency oversees LEADS and granted Patrick Zaruba access after the sheriff’s office helped certify him. Cops found to have used the system for personal reasons, or otherwise improperly, have been fired or reprimanded.

So who, if anyone, did Patrick Zaruba look up?

Neither he nor his father responded to numerous calls and emails on the subject. The BGA filed a formal request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, which compels government agencies to release public documents, but the sheriff’s office refused to turn over anything. As a result, the BGA filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court on Thursday alleging the sheriff violated state law in failing to hand over 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 members that Patrick Zaruba was tapping into LEADS. "There is absolutely no reason that a relative of any law enforcement official should have access to confidential law enforcement information," Mazzone said.

He’s not alone in holding that view.

The BGA surveyed more than a dozen other sheriff’s departments in northern Illinois. They all insisted they don’t allow interns, ride-along participants or Explorer scouts (many of whom are weighing a law enforcement career) to use LEADS. What’s more, they said they were shocked any agency would permit that kind of access.

"We’re very sensitive about LEADS and who gets access to it," says Lake County sheriff’s police Chief Wayne Hunter. "There has to be justification."

When told of the situation in DuPage County, 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?"

Patrick Zaruba is now 19 and a student at Illinois State University.

He was given LEADS access in November 2010, when he was 17 and a senior at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, according to police records.

Used by approximately 800 criminal justice agencies throughout the state, LEADS has vital records such as warrants, orders of protection and criminal histories. Users also have the power to access the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a federal version of LEADS with sensitive information on terrorists and individuals who may pose a threat to President Obama and other top U.S. officials.

The process of becoming a certified LEADS user involves a two-hour course, passing an examination and undergoing a fingerprint-based background check.

Patrick Zaruba completed those requirements with help from the sheriff’s office and, from the State Police, obtained 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 this 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 added that "authorized users can only access data for criminal justice purposes." But it’s unclear what criminal justice purpose Patrick would have for running LEADS searches.

Numerous officers throughout Illinois have been disciplined or fired over the years for misusing the system, several Chicago-area police officials told the BGA.

In DuPage County, for example, John Zaruba disciplined an employee who was caught in late 2008 allegedly looking up a license plate on LEADS for a friend, according to county records.

Mazzone said that’s hypocrisy.

Meanwhile, DuPage County Board members have already expressed concern about Patrick Zaruba’s ride-alongs, saying they not only appear to be inappropriate, but also expose taxpayers to huge financial liabilities should someone sue over his actions.

Whether or not Patrick Zaruba is looking ahead to a career in law enforcement is unclear.

But if he’s looking to join the DuPage County sheriff’s office he’ll have to wait.

New hires must be at least 21 years old, with a minimum of 60 college credit hours, county records show.

This story was written and reported by the BGA’s Andrew Schroedter and CBS2’s Pam Zekman. To reach them, call (312) 821-9035, or email aschroedter@bettergov.org.

About the Author
  • Andrew Schroedter

    Andrew Schroedter was a senior investigator at the BGA, responsible for covering, among other topics, criminal justice, municipal finance and city and suburban government. His investigative projects were featured in the Chicago Sun-Times, CBS2, NBC5, among others, and been referenced by The New York Times, The New Yorker, CNN, The Economist, National Public Radio and more.