Since 2006, large U.S. police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings, the Washington Post reports. Departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts. Most officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses. A San Antonio police officer caught on a dash cam challenging a handcuffed man to fight him for the chance to be released was reinstated. In Washington, D.C., an officer convicted of sexually abusing a woman in his patrol car was ordered returned to the force in 2015. A Boston officer was returned to work in 2012 despite accusations of lying, drunkenness and driving a suspected gunman from the scene of a nightclub killing.
Police agencies sometimes sabotage their own attempts to shed troubled officers by making procedural mistakes. The result is that police chiefs have booted hundreds of officers they have deemed unfit, only to be compelled to take them back and return them to the streets with guns and badges. “It’s demoralizing, but not just to the chief,” said former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “It’s demoralizing to the rank and file who really don’t want to have those kinds of people in their ranks. It causes a tremendous amount of anxiety in the public. Our credibility is shot whenever these things happen.” President Trump’s administration has indicated that the federal government will curtail the strategy of federal intervention in departments confronted with allegations of systemic officer misconduct, even as controversial police shootings undermine public confidence.