Hundreds of Known 'Bad Cops' Are Still on the Job, According to New Report

Almost 10 percent of police officers charged with crimes are still working in law enforcement, new report from Wall Street Journal finds.


Bad cops find work.
Andrey Bayda/Dreamstime.com

Hundreds of police officers who have been charged with crimes—including driving under the influence (DUI), theft, sexual assault, and other forms of unlawful violence—have been able to remain gainfully empolyed in the law enforcement profession. Thousands more remain eligible to work as cops, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal.

As I've written for Reason, police officers who have lost their jobs for misconduct can often get new jobs because of the inconsistency in reporting police decertifications (essentially, the loss of an occupational license to work in law enforcement) on a state by state basis.

Some states decertify more than others, and not all of them report their data to the volunteer-run database that keeps track of police decertifications. Six states, all heavily Democratic states with strong public sector labor unions, do not decertify police officers at all. The Journal correctly notes, "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."

Analyzing data on police misconduct cases in all fifty states from 2005-2011, the Journal found from 3,458 officers were arrested and charged with crimes. Of those officers, 332 were still working in law enforcement as recently as 2015, and 1,927 were not working as police officers but were not barred from doing so. According to the Journal:

Some officers stayed in the profession after convictions for killing or injuring people through negligence or recklessness, or for drunken-driving infractions. Others were convicted of crimes such as beatings, brandishing weapons illegally, stealing or lying.

In a few cases, convictions were overturned on appeal, though many underlying facts of the misconduct weren't generally in dispute.

Check out my report on the many stymied efforts to prevent decertified police officers from finding new jobs as cops. It includes the only known instance of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) being wary of supporting regulatory legislation, in this case, legislation which I described as helping to prevent the hiring of "armed agents of the state who are granted the right to use lethal force that have been banned from working as cops elsewhere."


NEXT: Minimum Wage Increases Kick In; Start Watching for Winners and Losers

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Dunphy spends all his time trolling Hit’n’Run, so at least we know he’s not one of ’em.

    1. What a dullard

    2. A fairer plan, she told the paper, would give newer employees smaller increases, along with the chance to earn a more substantial raise with more experience.

      You mean the remuneration scheme used by every other business, ever?

      1. Well… every other successful business ever.

    3. “Maisey McMaster ? once a big supporter of the plan ? is one of the employees that quit. McMaster, 26, joined the company five years ago, eventually working her way up to financial manager. She put in long hours that “left little time for her husband and extended family,” The Times says, but she loved the “special culture” of the place.”

      The fact she couldn’t see this would leave me pause about their critical thinking skills.

      This is basic stuff and yet this ridiculous generation thinks it knows a secret hundreds upon hundreds of years of capitalism might have missed? Ridiculous.

    4. That’s over a year old. PBS was even pushing that guy for Labor Secretary as recently as December. The company did see a “doubling” of revenue supposedly. The problem is they will continue to get their short term boon but eventually they will crumble. And the blame will not be placed on this stupidity but instead on other factors. These things never work nor break as quickly nor completely as they should.

  2. Bad cops require other cops to cover for their bad behavior, which puts the lie to the idea that most cops are decent people.

    1. cjwt,

      “… the Journal found from 3,458 officers were arrested and charged with crimes.”

      And we, the real we, are all familiar with stats regarding unreported/unsolved crimes. Which means that 3,458 is a drop in the bucket in comparison to the real number of criminal cops.

  3. Hundreds of police officers who have been charged with crimes

    Are we talking charged or convicted/plea bargained? Because there’s a huge difference. I don’t think someone, even a cop, should be fired because they were charged with a crime. That’s the whole point of due process and the concept that people are innocent until proven guilty. And, of course, administrative action can still be taken without firing the accused, up to and including leave without pay.

    1. I see where you’re coming from, but when you consider the odds of actually getting a conviction against a bad cop, no matter how bad he or she is, I’m okay with canning them if they’re charged (which is a pretty big step in itself).

      1. I’m also considering the odds that the accused cop is actually a good cop being railroaded for crossing the thin blue line.

    2. I have no problem with holding the enforcers of the State’s monopoly on violence to a much higher standard than anybody else.

      1. I’m just not convinced that “no arrest record” is really a higher standard considering all the things that are illegal across this country and all the times that actual good cops have been punished with trumped up charges for crossing the thin blue line.

    3. At-will employment means risking getting fired even if you’re eventually exonerated. Employers aren’t burdened by reasonable doubt or a presumption of innocence. It’s not always going to be fair, but we shouldn’t attenuate what remains of the sanctity of contract and our freedom of association in the name of fairness.

      1. I understand that, but I think that it is often a mistake to fire someone just because they got arrested. Look at how often people are railroaded by the police or arrested for some victim-less crime.

        1. “Arrested” and “charged” are different things, you know.

    4. I don’t think someone, even a cop, should be fired because they were charged with a crime.

      Very few private employers will keep somebody on who has been charged with a felony. Why should cops get special treatment.

      1. Because government is the employer of last resort?

    5. You have to consider the possibility, and this might be why it takes longer for an LEO to suffer the full consequences, that some criminal will swear out a complaint, and be willing to perjure themselves in court, in retaliation for a cop doing his/her job and arresting them, or one of theirs.
      Police officers frequently have to respond to retaliation efforts by the ones they arrest, especially with phony “brutality” charges.
      Oh, that’s right. REASON commenters think that’s why cops take the job – to be able to brutalize people.

  4. have been able to remain gainfully empolyment

    Good lord, man — edit!

    1. Reason writers show solidarity for commenters by refusing to edit their work.

      1. So the writers don’t have an edit button, either?

  5. I’m pretty sure there are some bad cops. What’s the percentage of dishonest journalism school graduates who are still being paid to spread left or right false propaganda?

    1. Both are approaching 1.0 asymptotically.

    2. Some of them, I assume, are good people.

  6. As long as the “good” cops encourage and sustain this environment, there are no good cops.

  7. I’m sorry, Reason, but merely being convicted of A crime is not disqualifying… not in my agency and many others…

    Now, if it’s a crime of DISHONESTY (such as theft) , I heartily agree – that should be disqualifying.

    In my agency, a DUI (first offense) gets you 2-5 day suspension, not termination.

    Now, all states should have a centralized database where termination for certain offenses (whether a crime or NOT) disqualifies one for work anywhere else in the state.

    that’s what my state has.

    but the idea that conviction of a crime should mean a cop gets fired is (imnsho) ridiculous.. depends on the crime , the cops past history, etc.

    Reason is the first to admit there are a lot of ridiculous/de minimus etc crimes, for example.

    there are also crimes that are “oopsies”…

    Cop lets his driver’s license expire by mistake…

    we had that happen o a guy in my agency.

    no holds or whatever on his license. he just forgot. he was taking an ACCESS class , and in the class his name was run .. because that’s how ACCESS works.. and they found out his license was expired.


    had been for two months.

    he got a ticket, (since he had been seen driving earlier in the day, thus there was PC ), pled guilty to the misdemeanor, paid the fine, and got a 2 day suspension

    sounds reasonable to me.

    1. A DUI should get you more than a 2?5 day suspension, and that suspension should be unpaid. The penalties for non-LEOs are a lot stiffer than that, especially for repeat offenses. Since the entire justification for DUI being a crime is about protecting other people, there is no reason LEOs should enjoy any special treatment.

      1. For example, the penalties for DUI in Maryland include up to 1 in year in prison (first offense) or 2 years in prison (second offense). Presumably, circumstances dictate whether you get any jail time and if so, how much, but “is a LEO” is not relevant to any aspect of the crime.

    2. Convictions for more serious crimes (as in, more than just an expired license) should include disqualification from public office for x period of time. It should be part of the official sentence, and during the ban period anyone putting the person on the public payroll would be committing contempt of court.

      It need not be a permanent ban, but based on the circumstances of the case (or realistically, based on the content of the plea bargain).

      1. And this would mean not just cops but DMV clerks, legislators, or whoever. After the sentence is up, reapply and see how interested they are in giving the person the job back.

      2. Of course, if the crime is framing a suspect, then the ban should be lifelong (barring a pardon, by a politically-accountable governor).

  8. Serious question (I don’t know) – can cops be impeached, as in by the legislature of the state concerned? How high ranking would they have to be?

    Probably a *very* theoretical question.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.