Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Trailing Gypsy Cops

What can be done to solve Texas’ problem of “gypsy cops,” who float from department to department without their bad records ever catching up to them? The issue has been brewing around the state for several years.

Gypsies are officers who have been fired for cause and/or resigned to avoid termination, then secured employment at another department.

The classic “gypsy cop,” about whom this previously internal-law enforcement slang term was popularized, was Tom Coleman, on whose word 16% percent of the black population of Tulia Texas was imprisoned in the infamous 1999 drug sting. That case received international attention, but the term and the circumstances it describes are more common. Just last week, the October 2 Longview News Journal reported that a Longview patrol officer who was fired for excessive force got a job with the Rusk County Sheriff’s Department before his departmental appeals were expired. Other examples abound.

It has been suggested by Texas police unions that officers should only be considered “gypsies” after they’ve transferred agencies six or more times, but the public and the Legislature have a genuine right to be concerned the first time a bad cop is re-hired in another jurisdiction.

Making officer termination information public at the state peace officer licensing agency (the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education), would create a new set of incentives for agencies to avoid hiring “gypsy cops.” If the media, concerned members of the public or political opponents discovered an agency was hiring officers of questionable character or quality, it changes the context, and departments are more likely to take actions that will protect the public from a few bad eggs.
A bill passed in the 2001 Texas Legislature made termination information at TCLEOSE public for officers who engaged in excessive force or criminal conduct, but that should be expanded to make termination notices public for all cases when an officer was fired for cause or resigned while being investigated.

The Law Enforcement Committee of the Texas House of Representatives heard testimony on this topic August 19 (see their video archives), and may recommend reforms to address this problem in the committee's forthcoming Interim Report.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

God I love Google... I believe that the gypsy cop phenomenom is more widespread than anyone would care to admit. I am about to add to the wiki article concerning "gypsy cops". Please consider linking your article to the entry.