Hundreds of police officers and staff have illicitly accessed police databases for their own ends including checking the criminal records of partners.
Freedom of Information requests show 237 officers and staff have been disciplined for accessing the highly-sensitive police national computer computer or other IT systems in the past two years.
Just half of the 45 forces responded to the requests which suggests as many as 500 officers have misused databases that contain confidential personal information on millions of people, their property and the movements of vehicles across the country.
They have included a case of a police officer accessing his force’s crime management system to check on the criminal record of a woman with whom he had a four year relationship.
He also checked up on her credit record and financial history using the Experian data site to “reassure” himself about her background.
The officer in Leicestershire Police received a six month jail sentence, suspended for a year, after admitting three counts under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
The judge said that Lewis had sought to "reassure" himself at the beginning and the end of a relationship by accessing information about a girlfriend who was not the mother of his children.
In a separate case, a Metropolitan Police officer illegally accessed a police database to monitor a criminal investigation into his own conduct.
The sergeant was found to have trawled the database, sending himself documents from it and viewing details of other suspects in criminal investigations.
He was convicted under the Computer Misuse Act and ordered to complete 150 hours of community service and pay £540.
Another officer used the police national computer to check on the log of a search warrant executed at a property owned by a family member.
The Bedfordshire police officer was found guilty of misconduct and dismissed after it also emerged he had failed to disclose a business interest and notify his senior officers that a family member had a criminal conviction.
Nine police officers from West Yorkshire Police were disciplined for viewing their family record without a policing purpose, while in Nottinghamshire a staff member used computer systems to check the records of people with whom he was involved in a civil dispute.
Patrick Sullivan, chief executive of the think tank Parliament Street, which obtained the information under FOIs, said: “In a time when we are all digital citizens, it’s essential that police forces act swiftly against those who exploit the public’s personal data.
“It’s high time the most serious data breaches are punished with custodial sentences and criminal records.”
Computer expert, Sheila Flavell, of FDM Group, said: “With cyber crime on the rise, it’s vital that those tasked with keeping us safe are proficient with technology and acutely aware of the importance of data protection rules.”
The police computer system contains five highly sensitive databases. One, Quest, enables the search of the names database to identify suspects including physical descriptions and personal features.
A second allows users to search the vehicles database using registration numbers, postcodes and colour details to narrow the list to potential suspect vehicles.
The ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) uses a nationwide network of cameras to take images of number plate of vehicles moving around the country, a fourth can search for items that are lost and found and fifth matches incidents to help police solve serial criminals.