Hundreds of police officers in America still have badges after being charged with crimes, The Wall Street Journal found after tracking outcomes of police-misconduct cases across every state. Infractions that can disqualify barbers, child-care providers and others needing state certification don’t necessarily bar officers from retaining jobs or getting new ones. In America’s patchwork system, most states let some officers remain on the force despite misconduct, including actions that other states might consider disqualifying. The Journal traced outcomes for 3,458 police officers whose arrests resulted in their losing jobs or being convicted—or both—in the seven years through 2011. It found that 1,927 who left their departments after brushes with the law weren’t in law enforcement in 2015 but had not been placed on any list of decertified officers. Of the remainder, 430 were imprisoned, including 261 who hadn’t been decertified. Another 738 were decertified but not incarcerated, and 31 had died. Almost 10 percent, 332 of the officers, remained in law enforcement.
The Journal’s analysis gives credence to the notion put forth by some law-enforcement officials that police misconduct—which has become a point of national debate after a series of high-profile shooting deaths, some on video—might in part stem from the presence of a small but persistent minority of “bad apple” officers who are allowed to stay on the job. It is frequently possible for problem officers to keep their posts or move from job to job, the analysis shows. Some police agencies don’t always check whether applicants have records of misdeeds. Among states with processes for stripping officers of certification, some didn’t decertify a single one in 2015. Union rules often help officers retain their jobs.