Wednesday, May 21, 2014

TCLE form fails to track gypsy cops fired for misconduct

The Austin Statesman over the weekend published a fine investigative piece by Eric Dexheimer and Tony Plohetski about the problem of "gypsy cops" fired from one police department and later rehired at other agencies ("Town's police force highlights struggle to track cops with a history," May 17). Reported the paper:
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.

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.
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:
“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.

[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.
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.

See related Grits coverage.


Robert Langham said...

The folks who hire police that have moved a few times in their careers...they KNOW what they are getting. IF the citizenry is going to get on top of this problem, (and there is no indication that they are), LEOs would have to loose a great deal of their civil immunity AND have strict controls set on who can continue to hold a commission. Perhaps commissions ought to be vulnerable to revocation for any number of acts, including failing bienneal psychological review.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that the chiefs do what Obama always does and say, "I had no idea what was going on."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@7:39, what in the world does Obama have to do with local, Texas cops?

@Robert, agreed on immunity. But a lot of this would be solved if, when cops commit crimes on the job, they were more frequently prosecuted.

Anonymous said...

Robert, did you know that you can have psychological issues and still qualify to be a cop, but disqualified as a security officer? That's how jacked up this system is.

Anonymous said...

Silly Kim Vickers, there you go spreading the ol tired & lame ass description of 'corruption' as simply "broken", when we all know damn good and well that it's rigged.

Had it not been for the A.S. piece and the posting here at GFB, a bunch of us wouldn't have learned about this latest edition of WTF -
"They Can't do That". If this one doesn't generate at least two UPDATES and deemed worthy of a CNN Special Report, we haven't done our jobs as citizens.

Sadly, the good cops are simply going along with it and the taxpayers remain financially responsible for the actions of the rogue.

Thank you Grits.