USA Today has partnered with its affiliate newsrooms and a nonprofit group in Chicago to launch an important new database that documents law enforcement officers with records of misconduct.
Part of that database is now available for public searches. USA Today has documented at least 85,000 cops who have been investigated or disciplined for misconduct across the past decade. But this initial document dump focuses just on 30,000 cops who have been "decertified" by various state agencies for misconduct.
There are 44 states that have an internal decertification process that is intended to try to make sure that bad cops can't migrate to other cities or states to land new jobs at other agencies after they've been fired for misconduct. But as Anthony Fisher documented for Reason in 2016, there's really no centralized tracking going on so that it's easy to determine who is on any of those lists, and even decertified cops can go on to find new jobs in law enforcement agencies elsewhere. Several of these states require officers to actually be convicted of crimes before they'll actually be decertified. And police unions have resisted any efforts to make a national decertification database.
So it's possible that this USA Today database is a useful resource to other law enforcement agencies in states that don't participate in the decertification process or are otherwise struggling to get the information.
But there are still huge gaps—California does not participate in this 44-state decertification program and they've got more police and deputies than anybody else. It was just with the start of this new year that California changed its record laws to unseal records of police misconduct that had been hidden from public view.
Of the cops who were decertified, USA Today notes that the greatest number of them had been banned for drug or alcohol issues (DUIs, for example) and for assaults or violence. But a good number of them (close to 2,000) had been banned for sexual misconduct. Another 2,777 had been banned for "dishonesty," a category that covers behavior like perjury or tampering with evidence.
Also worth note: USA Today's data show that only 10 percent of officers in most police forces get investigated for misconduct. But among those who have been banned, nearly 2,500 had been investigated on 10 or more charges. A small group of them (20) had faced 100 or more allegations and were still serving. If it's bad apples spoiling the bunch, some of them are really bad.
USA Today ends its piece by openly calling for cooperation from journalists at other media outlets, from members of the public, and even from law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to fill out this database. The opening of police records in California has prompted media outlets there to work together to track down decades' worth of what had been secret details of police misconduct. Maybe they'll add their work to what USA Today is doing.
Check out the database here.