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Decades-old bad cop database underused, underfunded | COMMENTARY

Wave of Reform

In the wake of the killings by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Georgia, politicians are scrambling to find ways to address the problem of unjustified uses of deadly force by police, particularly on Black victims. Media personalities and talking heads are calling for a wide range of “new” measures to hold officers accountable and prevent the hiring of those who are unfit to wear the badge, especially those previously fired by a law enforcement agency. One of the “new” ideas bandied about is a database tracking problem officers who move from one department to another after having had issues — commonly referred to as “gypsy cops.”

This supposedly “new” idea has actually been around for two decades. It is inexcusable that it has not been embraced by law enforcement leaders, adequately funded and put to use protecting police departments and the communities they serve from rogue cops.

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As a senior policy analyst for the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in 1999, I oversaw a cooperative agreement between the COPS office and the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) to develop a database, in conjunction with the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission, of law enforcement officers who have lost their certification because of misconduct.

In 2005, over my strong objection, the COPS Office discontinued funding the project as a result of in-house power dynamics and a legal division more interested in internal politics than improving policing and the mission of the office. Not wanting to give up on the project, I set up a meeting between IADLEST and the Director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, who immediately saw the benefit of the database and took over funding of the project for a time. Eventually, that funding also ran out.

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Since then, IADLEST has continued to maintain what has become known as the National Decertification Index (NDI) on what has been described as a shoestring budget. The time to embrace the NDI, to adequately fund NDI and mandate its use is now.

Currently, the NDI has 45 certifying agencies participating in the program. It is not perfect. It is voluntary, and not all states participate. Five states do not even have a decertification process (Maryland does). Congress needs to make participation in the NDI mandatory and require all states to have a decertification process, then tie both requirements to federal funding.

Lawmakers also must push for a national standard for the decertification of law enforcement officers. Some states require a felony conviction for an officer to be decertified, while an officer can be decertified over a noncriminal personnel matter in other states.

Finally, there needs to be a congressional appropriation to provide federal funding to complete development of the NDI. The Department of Justice can enter into a cooperative agreement to complete and manage the NDI project by partnering through its Office of Justice Program with IADLEST.

IADLEST recognized a problem over 20 years ago, a problem that is still with us today.

It is time to close the circle and complete the job. Congress must act.

Karl Bickel, a retired U.S. Department of Justice Senior Policy Analyst was previously second in command of the Frederick County, MD Sheriff’s Office, former police officer and former assistant professor of criminal justice. He can be reached at KarlBickel@comcast.net.

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