Saturday, October 1, 2016
What happens to cops who have screwed up, discharged notwithstanding a police union effort to let them keep their jobs, perhaps even those arrested for this malfeasance? At a time when it is obvious that we need the best and most sensitive cops on the beat – men and women with unquestioned integrity – the answer can be most disturbing. Lots of these disgraced officers get jobs in private security… or actually become cops somewhere else. Sounds a lot like the Catholic Church and its former proclivity to ship fallen priests with sexual misconduct on the line… of to a distant and different parish.
Cops who leave one police force for another – often for disciplinary reasons – are generally known as “gypsy cops.” There are lots of gypsy cops on active duty across America. The New York Times (September 10th) looked at a few of these stories:
“As a police officer in a small Oregon town in 2004, Sean Sullivan was caught kissing a 10-year-old girl on the mouth… Mr. Sullivan’s sentence barred him from taking another job as a police officer… But three months later, in August 2005, Mr. Sullivan was hired, after a cursory check, not just as a police officer on another force but as the police chief. As the head of the department in Cedar Vale, Kan., according to court records and law enforcement officials, he was again investigated for a suspected sexual relationship with a girl and eventually convicted on charges that included burglary and criminal conspiracy.
“‘It was very irritating because he should never have been a police officer,’ said Larry Markle, the prosecutor for Montgomery and Chautauqua counties in Kansas… Mr. Sullivan, 44, is now in prison in Washington State on other charges, including identity theft and possession of methamphetamine. It is unclear how far-reaching such problems may be, but some experts say thousands of law enforcement officers may have drifted from police department to police department even after having been fired, forced to resign or convicted of a crime.
“Yet there is no comprehensive, national system for weeding out problem officers. If there were, such hires would not happen, criminologists and law enforcement officials say… Officers, sometimes hired with only the most perfunctory of background examinations — as Kansas officials said was the case with Mr. Sullivan — and frequently without even having their fingerprints checked, often end up in new trouble, according to a review of court documents, personnel records and interviews with former colleagues and other law enforcement officials…
“[A] lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies, opposition from police executives and unions, and an absence of federal guidance have meant that in many cases police departments do not know the background of prospective officers if they fail to disclose a troubled work history…
“Among the officers… who have found jobs even after exhibiting signs that they might be ill suited for police work is Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014… Before he was hired in Cleveland, Officer Loehmann had resigned from a suburban police force not long after a supervisor recommended that he be fired for, among other things, an inability to follow instructions. But Cleveland officials never checked his personnel file.
“Officer Loehmann, who was not indicted, remains on the Cleveland force. He is on desk duty pending the result of an administrative review, Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia, a police spokeswoman, said… While serving as a St. Louis officer, Eddie Boyd III pistol-whipped a 12-year-old girl in the face in 2006, and in 2007 struck a child in the face with his gun or handcuffs before falsifying a police report, according to Missouri Department of Public Safety records.
“Though Officer Boyd subsequently resigned, he was soon hired by the police department in nearby St. Ann, Mo., before he found a job with the troubled force in Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American, was fatally shot by a white officer in 2014… Officer Boyd is being sued by a woman in Ferguson who said he arrested her after she asked for his name at the scene of a traffic accident. He declined an interview request.
“The Ferguson police declined to comment about him, but said in a statement that their applicants ‘undergo extensive investigation before final hiring decisions are made, which includes, but is not limited to, a psychological examination, investigation of an applicant’s prior work history, consultation with applicant’s previous employers and a criminal background check.’…
“Last year, in a report by President Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing, law enforcement officials and others recommended that the Justice Department establish a database in partnership with the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, which manages a database of officers who have been stripped of their police powers. There are some 21,000 names on the list, but Mike Becar, the group’s executive director, said his organization lacked the resources to do a thorough job… ‘It’s all we can do to keep the database up,’ he said.
“The Justice Department, which gave the association about $200,000 to start the database in 2009, no longer funds it. The department declined to explain why it had dropped its support, but a spokesman said the goal was ‘ensuring that our nation’s law enforcement agencies have the necessary resources to identify the best qualified candidates to protect and serve communities.’… Law enforcement groups advocating reforms say an effective database would go a long way toward ensuring that unfit officers are not given multiple chances.”
What complicates the situation is legal actions, from unions to individually-engaged lawyers, who work out “settlements” with law enforcement agencies when an officer is discharged. But it’s not just the legal actions that cause secondary issues; the database faces serious challenges even it can be established. The fear of being sued also gives some police departments as excuse to “whitewash” employment records of unqualified officers. For cops who are charged with offenses that they did not commit or have been charged and exonerated, the safety precautions have merit. But for the public at large, giving an unqualified and perhaps dangerous individual a badge and a gun is simply unacceptable. It’s time for a national registry to stop this obvious national failing.
I’m Peter Dekom, and governing always means balance and protecting individual rights, but when the stakes get high enough, it time to deploy common sense solutions.