I-Team: Can officers keep revoked driver's licenses?

TPD officer accused of keeping licenses

TAMPA - When an officer pulls a driver over and revokes their driver's license, what happens to it afterward? Is it turned in, destroyed, or kept by the officer?

A woman named Heather complained to Tampa Police and to ABC Action News that a Tampa police officer has been keeping the driver's licenses he confiscates at home.

We're not using her last name or identifying the officer because the woman is his estranged wife and is in the midst of a custody battle with him.  We asked her if that was why she reported the allegations to Tampa PD and to us. She denied that it played a role in her decision to report the licenses.

She showed us four driver's licenses she claims she found in a drawer.  We reviewed court records and two of the licenses do come up to citations issued by the officer in question.  The others could not be traced to him.

We showed photos of the licenses we saw to some of the drivers who originally owned them. Teresa Roberson, who says her license was suspended for failing to pay traffic tickets, was angry to hear the accusation.

"I feel violated," Roberson said.

Roberson believes the license should be either turned in to the department or destroyed.

Heather recently turned in the licenses to the Tampa Police Department, and they are investigating whether or not any violations of police department policy took place.

We asked several former law enforcement officers about cases in which officers kept driver's licenses, rather than turning them in. Nearly all of them told us they have never heard of it happening.

"There's no harm that comes out of it, but it's not proper procedure. It's not the way you should do things these days," said Ron Spiller, a law enforcement expert and a member of SRI Investigations.

We asked several local law enforcement agencies what their policies are with regards to what's done with a driver's license after it's confiscated. Some, like the Florida Highway Patrol and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, specifically spell out that it needs to be immediately turned over or destroyed.

Other agencies, including the Tampa Police Department, don't have written policies, but they say there is an accepted set of practices that officers follow.

"If a revoked or suspended license has evidentiary value, it is retained for court purposes. Once the court case is resolved, the officer should destroy the driver's license.  Anything outside this course of action, would be a break from our accepted practices," said Laura McElroy, public information officer for the Tampa Police Department.

Every agency we spoke with said officers would not be allowed to keep a driver's license indefinitely.

"There's no reason, absolutely no reason, for an officer of the law to carry around my driver's license," Roberson said.

The Tampa Police Department did indicate to us they have previously investigated an officer for failing to turn in driver's licenses, but they weren't able to locate specifics on the case before the deadline for our story.

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