Despite a number of efforts by regulators to restrict the practice, Texas police officers with histories of misconduct often move easily from department to department.The Legislature has created a system that lets bad cops easily get their discharges upgraded and created disincentives for departments to accurately describe reasons for dismissal on the state's F-5 form. Again, from the Statesman:
At the heart of the failure is a piece of paper called the F-5, which must be filled out by chiefs every time an officer leaves a department and placed on file at the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. Required in Texas since 2005, the confidential form requires chiefs to label departing officers’ performance as “honorable,” “general” or “dishonorable.”
Yet changes over the years have created incentives and opportunities for the document to be manipulated so as to obscure an officer’s true performance. The result: Regulators say the F-5 has turned into an essentially worthless piece of paper.
“You can no longer trust it to tell you what it’s suppose to,” said Kim Vickers, the state commission’s executive director. “The system is broken.”
It is also a reminder of how difficult it can be to remove bad police from the profession generally. Teachers, doctors and other professionals can all lose their state licenses for unprofessional behavior. Texas laws covering police officers, by comparison, contain no blanket provision for suspending or revoking an officer’s license for misconduct — making it virtually impossible to take away an officer’s license for anything short of a felony conviction.
“Are there small town chiefs not checking ‘dishonorable’ when they should? Absolutely,” said Christopher Davis, who was the top lawyer at the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement until retiring two years ago.The minimalist F-5 form and the failure of departments to apply dishonorable discharges to fired cops is surely a problem. And it's exacerbated by the statute closing records about police officer discipline in civil service cities like Austin. Those issues are easier to track in non-civil service cities like Dallas where the open records act applies.
[TCLE Chief Kim] Vickers said he knew of a half-dozen cases in the past year in which a chief agreed to let an officer resign in lieu of firing as long as he agreed not to seek a new law enforcement position in nearby jurisdictions. In other instances, Vickers said, police chiefs simply don’t show up to contest dishonorable appeals, which means the case is automatically decided in favor of officers.
The number of “honorable” discharges across the state has climbed steadily. In 2009, 74 percent of the 15,000 discharge reports issued were “honorable,” with about 22 percent of the departing officers receiving a “general” discharge.
By last year, 85 percent of the 16,500 departing officers leaving a department received “honorable” discharges. Barely 11 percent were labeled “general.” The number of dishonorable discharges has stayed flat.
“It’s not that there are not problem officers out there,” Vickers said. Rather, more and more are being given upgraded classifications, making it difficult for hiring departments to distinguish good cops from bad ones.
See related Grits coverage.