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Old Saybrook officer arrested after using police database to find woman online

Josh Zarbo is accused of illegally accessing the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Teleprocessing system to get vehicle registration information.
Credit: FOX61
Police patrol vehicle sirens

OLD SAYBROOK, Conn. — An Old Saybrook police officer has been arrested after an investigation into an alleged computer crime that targeted two young women on November 25. 

Police Officer, Patrolman Josh Zarbo was placed on administrative leave and his law enforcement authority was taken away during this investigation. He's been with the police department since December 27, 2017.

"A disappointment, but not shocked. This is a situation that we've seen before," said David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU. 

Old Saybrook police began two investigations, one administrative and one criminal, after an incident involving Zarbo as he worked a private duty job providing security at a Walmart on Black Friday morning. 

According to the arrest warrant, Zarbo saw two young women, sisters, shopping at the store. When they got in their car, he radioed police dispatch and asked them to run the license plate. Once he had the name of the woman driving, he found her online and followed her on Instagram. 

When Zarbo ran her license plate over dispatch, he said, "Bro, I'm gaming right now" which is slang for picking up women. 

A friend of the woman heard the request on a police scanner and made her aware that her plate had been run. She connected the plate request with her new Instagram follower and contacted authorities. 

Kenneth Gray, a former agent with the FBI who is now a professor at the University of New Haven said he has used the database system himself in the past and knows it can reveal a lot. 

"It could give you their address, their date of birth, you may have access to a photograph of this person," said Gray. 

Zarbo told investigators he thought the women had been acting suspiciously, and that's why he asked for the plate to be run. However, he did not ask for the vehicle information until 17 minutes after the woman's car left the lot.

A friend of the woman heard her name over the scanner and texted her to ask if she was okay. The woman contacted authorities and an investigation began. 

"If it had not been for someone listening to the dispatch radio, this likely would never had been picked up, so it shows an alarming lack of oversight," added McGuire. 

On Wednesday, Old Saybrook police charged Zarbos with Computer Crime in the Third degree, which is a Class D Felony, for illegally accessing the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Teleprocessing (COLLECT) system for personal reasons.

"Before to stalk someone, you had to physically do so or call them on the phone or do other things like that but now, it's much wider and it includes the Internet," added Gray. 

FOX61 spoke to the woman on Facebook who stated she was not interested in speaking at the moment. 

Zarbo was released on a $5,000 bond. He is due in Middletown Superior Court on December 27. 

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“The Old Saybrook Police Department takes our responsibility to ensure that Department Employees are adhering to workplace expectations and the law very seriously,” said Michael A. Spera, Chief of Police. “Old Saybrook Citizens must be assured that they can trust their Police Department not only to provide superior traditional and nontraditional law enforcement services every day, but that they can also trust their Police Department to maintain high standards, swiftly address internal matters, and possess the ability to properly police our own.”

This investigation is ongoing and Zarbo will remain on administrative leave with no law enforcement authority.

Carmen Chau is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at cchau@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


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