OLD SAYBROOK, Conn. (WTNH) — An Old Saybrook police officer is out on bond Wednesday after allegedly illegally accessing the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Teleprocessing System to get information on a woman he saw while on an assignment.

Josh Zarbo, a patrolman with the department since 2017, had the woman’s vehicle registration run “for his own personal gain,” according to police. He has been charged with third-degree computer crime, which is a felony.

Josh Zarbo (Credit: Old Saybrook Police Department)

Zarbo, 30, was on security detail at the Walmart in Old Saybrook on Black Friday, Nov. 25, to monitor activities inside and outside the store.

The arrest warrant states that when Zarbo saw the woman, he texted another officer to run her vehicle registration, and then asked for it over the radio system. After getting her information, he allegedly followed her on Instagram.

The woman told police that she saw Zarbo while shopping and later noticed that the man who followed her on Instagram was the same officer.

Zarbo told police during an interview that the woman was “being suspicious” by the way she looked at him and because she pulled through a parking space instead of backing out of it, according to the arrest warrant. He also allegedly texted a dispatcher with slang, meaning he was trying to pick up women when he originally asked for her registration to be run through the system.

According to the arrest warrant, he called dispatch asking for her information 15 minutes after he saw her and did not ask for anyone else’s information during the shift. Zarbo reportedly told police that he followed her on Instagram after noticing they had mutual friends.

“The Old Saybrook Police Department takes our responsibility to ensure that Department
Employees are adhering to workplace expectations and the law very seriously,” Old Saybrook Police Chief Michael A. Spera said in a written announcement. “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.”

Michael Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, said police officers must provide a query or a case number when accessing this online database. He said falsely claiming a crime to access someone’s information is a forgery.

“It’s a very serious offense,” Lawlor said. “Police officers and others in the criminal justice system have access to data that you and I would never have access to it. As you saw in this case, you can trace people’s license plates to find out who they are, find out if they have been involved in any cases. You can just find out an extraordinary amount of information about people using this system.”

Lawlor said, typically, a police officer would have their certification revoked if found guilty of computer crime in the third degree.

Zarbo was released on a $5,000 bond. He is currently on administrative leave with no law enforcement authority.