Depending on the state, you may be required to obtain an occupational license to become a plumber, an insurance agent, a hair braider, a manicurist, or even a racetrack employee. These licenses afford privileged access to specific industries, and they can be revoked if certain standards aren’t met. In six states, the same standard isn’t applied to law enforcement, reports Reason. Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, California, and Hawaii employ 26 percent of U.S. law enforcement officers, but they have no legal authority to revoke the licenses of cops who have been dismissed for misconduct. Even though the other 44 states can decertify police officers, there is no nationwide mechanism allowing every police department to access an applicant’s work history with out-of-state departments. This information gap allows officers banned from working as police in one state to get law enforcement jobs in another state.
Police representatives would have you believe that “gypsy cops,” as such officers are called, represent an overstated and barely existent threat. But bad cops can and do find work in law enforcement. Decertified police have repeatedly slipped through the cracks to find new jobs in the profession, often by moving to another state and applying to a department lacking the resources to do a thorough background check. Some efforts to track police decertifications exist, but they are scattered and fragmented, varying from state to state, with no national coordination. That’s why police reform advocates have been pushing for the creation of a single, federally maintained database for more than 20 years. It’s harder than you might think for a cop to be stripped of his or her license: In 20 states, a criminal conviction is required for an officer to be decertified. Even so, over 9,000 police officers lost their licenses from 2009 to 2014. That’s a lot of cops with stains on their records looking for work. While opponents insist there’s no need for a tracking system, because no agency worth its salt would hire a “bad cop,” some of them are indeed able to find work after being stripped of their licenses.