Truth be told we do a pretty good job in this country keeping track of automobiles, doctors and teachers. We do a pretty lousy job keeping track of rogue police officers.
That’s right, there is no comprehensive national system for tracking bad seed officers who should find another line of work. The result? So-called “gypsy cops” who move from station house to station house and from state to state to find the next employer who will issue them a badge and a gun.
Timothy Loehmann was one.
He was the Cleveland officer who infamously responded to a call about a black male waving a gun in a public park in 2014. Video tape of the incident showed that within seconds of arriving and jumping out of the patrol car Officer Loehmann opened fire on the suspect. He was a 12-year-old boy named Tamir Rice who was holding a toy gun. The boy died on the spot as his older sister watched in horror.
Before Cleveland, Loehmann applied for work at three Ohio law enforcement departments. He finally got a job as an officer in Independence, Ohio but didn’t stay very long. A supervisor recommended he be fired for, among other things, his lack of emotional stability and his inability to follow orders. Nonetheless, the Cleveland police department hired Loehmann after failing to fully vet his background.
In 2004, Officer Sean Sullivan was working in Coquille, Oregon. He was caught kissing a 10-year old girl, prosecutors called it “grooming” the girl for a sexual encounter. His punishment included revocation of his police certificate and an order to never again work in any capacity as a police officer. But three months later, in an astonishing development, Sullivan was hired in Cedar Vail, Kansas as – are you sitting down? – The Chief of Police!
As chief, Sullivan was once again investigated for suspected sexual contact with a minor. The teen girl would not cooperate but Sullivan was convicted on burglary and criminal conspiracy charges. Today, he’s doing a stint in Washington State prison for, among other things, identity theft and possession of methamphetamine.
And get this one. Officer Eddie Boyd III lost his job with the St. Louis PD after the department found he had pistol-whipped a young girl in the face in 2006 and struck another child in the face with either handcuffs or his gun in 2007. Forced to resign, Boyd turned up shortly thereafter as a sworn officer in nearby St. Ann, Missouri. His next place of employment? The police force in Ferguson, Missouri, the scene of days of protests after an unarmed 18-year-old black man was fatally shot by a white officer in 2014.
Boyd is now being sued by a woman in Ferguson who says he lured her outside to the scene of a pedestrian accident and when she asked for his name (and he repeatedly refused to give it) officer Boyd “unreasonably arrested” her while knowing her young daughter would be left alone in the house.
Since no one keeps track there’s no telling how many gypsy cops fail to reveal their sordid histories and go on to find policing jobs elsewhere. The New York Times reports that, “Some experts say thousands of law enforcement officers may have drifted from police department to police department even after having been fired, forced to resign or convicted of a crime.”
Back in 2009, the Department of Justice gave a group called the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training some $200,000 to start a national data base of decertified officers. Sounded like a great idea but not all states participated and the non-profit association never got any more money to keep up the data base.
Today, there are some 21-thousand names on that list and the group, admittedly, has a hard time keeping it current and answering inquiries. Also, there’s no way for this group to include the names of cops who were allowed to simply resign rather than have a record of being fired and decertified. Those officers could turn up anywhere – including your town.
In an era where law enforcement behavior is front and center, at a time when there’s no official national data base keeping track of officer involved shootings, I’d think the least we could do is throw some cash toward maintaining a database that helps keep known bad apples away from law enforcement.
Good cops like the idea and it could be a great step toward rebuilding public trust in our police.