When misconduct forces a police officer to leave a job, little stops them from getting another position in law enforcement. Many problem police soon find work in other states or move from larger to smaller departments in their own state. Keeping track of problem police is not easy, but a database funded by the Justice Department does just that.
There is a big drawback – the database is not accessible to the public, so those outside law enforcement are unaware of it. If this information became publicly available, it could prove a major tool in police reform. Bad apples tend to move around from department to department, often leaving additional misconduct –or dead or seriously wounded victims –in their wake.
Smaller police departments with limited budgets may take a chance on a police officer with a dubious history. Some police departments fear defamation lawsuits if another department makes inquiries about hiring one of their former problem officers.
The National Decertification Index
The National Decertification Index (NDI) was created in 2000 by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST). Its purpose is “to serve as a national registry of certificate or licensed revocation actions relating to officer misconduct.” IADLEST notes that inclusion in the NDI does not necessarily preclude an individual from appointment as an officer.
To date, 45 certifying agencies have reported 30,322 actions to the NDI. The NDI does not contain records, as these are stored in the databases of participating state government agencies. Instead, as a pointer system, the NDI indicates that information about the officer for whom the inquiry was made is available. Only the name, certifying agency, and reason for decertification are provided. Confirmation of the information provided by the NDI should be verified with the relevant agency.
Not all states participate in the NDI. Currently, California, Georgia, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Rhode Island do not report decertifications. There are 45 state certifying agencies since North Carolina has two.
The following states make police investigation outcomes a matter of public record, so additional information is available:
Decertification regulations and policies vary according to state, further complicating the matter. For example, officers must have been convicted of a crime in some states for decertification to take place. In the majority of states, however, decertification rests on committing misconduct.
As an example of NDI benefits, IADLEST offers the following example. In 2005, police officer Sean Sullivan of Coquille, Oregon had his police certification revoked by the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training after being convicted of two counts of harassment. At his sentencing, he was ordered to surrender his state certification and never again work as a police officer in any capacity.
A few months later, Sullivan applied for a job as a police officer in a small town in Alaska. His application stated his certification was not revoked, and he had never been convicted of a crime. He also applied for a police chief job in Kansas, with the same lies on his application. Nevertheless, he was hired for the Kansas position and began working in 2006.
The Kansas Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) authorities learned of his prior conviction and began an investigation. Both Kansas and Oregon authorities used the NDI to identify the Oregon revocation, and appropriate action was taken.