In the wake of the George Floyd killing and other violence against criminal subjects, police departments around the country have been painted with the same broad brush — that they harbor a bunch of racist, violent, power-hungry cops who are busing their authority.
For the many departments that identify and address their problem officers seriously, that broad brush is not only unfair, but it taints their relationship with the communities they serve and undermines their ability to be effective public servants.
In addition to changing their policies and being more transparent, departments can help build trust by making sure they hire the right people in the first place.
Many departments hire officers with a history of disciplinary issues. Some of this is due to the fact that they want to give officers a chance to redeem themselves, so they hire the person on a probationary basis and scrutinize their conduct closely.
In other cases, the departments are unaware of past disciplinary issues because their former department didn’t take action, their cases didn’t make it to court or because the officer lied on his application.
Hiring experienced officers also helps save on training costs, prompting some departments to consider overlooking questionable conduct.
But plenty of experienced officers are available who change jobs seeking better pay or for other legitimate reasons.
Hire them instead.
To protect the public from bad hiring practices that put dangerous officers in the streets, state lawmakers are considering a number of bills relating to hiring.
One bill (A7284/S6489), the “Wandering Officers Act,” would prohibit a department from hiring an officer if he’s been previously fired as a police officer, left while under investigation or was the subject of termination-worthy disciplinary action, or if the officer resigned while criminal charges were pending.
The bill would prevent officers from taking their bad behavior from one community to the next and prevent departments from offering second chances to those who don’t deserve it.
(Here’s our recent article on the proposal.)
It’s got flaws, most notably the whole “innocent until proven guilty” part. It also takes discretion in hiring away from police chiefs and sheriffs.
But no one is guaranteed a job, especially a cop with a history of violence, corruption or criminality.
Another bill (A5417A/S6219A) would enact further protections by licensing police officers in the state, much the same way professions from nurses to teachers to hair stylists are licensed in New York.
It’s not a stretch to license police officers and make them subject to independent disciplinary review, similar to the way the Board of Regents operates.
Obviously, much more needs to be done in terms of policy, training, awareness and discipline to reduce police misconduct.
But stopping bad officers from finding new jobs after being cast off by their previous departments will help.