State Action Needed to Spot Problem Police Officers

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Without major changes in most states, a national police misconduct database like what the White House and Congress proposed after George Floyd’s death would fail to account for thousands of problem officers, the Associated Press reports. Democrats want to create a policing registry that would catalog disciplinary records, firings and misconduct complaints; President Donald Trump’s executive order calls on the attorney general to create a “database to coordinate the sharing of information” between law enforcement agencies. Any eventual registry would depend on states reporting into it. States and police departments track misconduct very differently, and some states don’t track it at all. The result is a lack of reliable official data and a patchwork system in which officers can stay employed even after being arrested or convicted of a crime.

One measure of police misconduct at a state level is decertification. Almost all states issue licenses to officers by mandating standards and training. Most states can decertify an officer’s license to prevent a bad one from working in law enforcement. AP asked all 50 states to provide the number of officers they decertified for the last five full years. Georgia said it decertified 3,239 officers between  2015 and 2019. Minnesota, where Floyd died, decertified 21. Maryland decertified just one officer. A federal requirement to collect police misconduct data already exists. The Justice Department has never met a requirement in the landmark 1994 crime law to “acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers” and publish an annual summary. In the meantime, the most complete information on officer shootings, sexual assaults and arrests has been compiled by university researchers and news organizations. Five states — California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island — have no decertification process at all. Neither does the federal government for most of its estimated 130,000 law enforcement officers.

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