Oregon releases police misconduct records, others to follow suit
Oregon made public the names of officers whose certification has been revoked or suspended, the first state to take this step toward transparency since the death of George Floyd. Several other states are signing into law their own public registries.
| Salem, Ore.
In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in police custody, Oregon has released the names of over 1,700 officers whose transgressions over the past 50 years were so serious that they were banned from working in law enforcement in the state.
The online posting last week came after the state Legislature created a law requiring the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training to establish a statewide public database of officers whose certification has been revoked or suspended.
"Those who are revoked have tarnished the badge and no longer have the trust of their community, their agency, or our agency as the certifying body," department director Eriks Gabliks told The Associated Press.
The website includes a spreadsheet with the names of decertified officers going back to 1971. In at least one instance, a police officer who was decertified in Oregon obtained employment in law enforcement in another state, a situation that some say points to the need for a comprehensive, nationwide database.
Former Coquille, Oregon, police officer Sean Sullivan was convicted of harassment in 2005 for kissing a 10-year-old girl on the mouth. A year later, he became chief of police of the tiny town of Cedar Vale, Kansas. He quit that job while being investigated there.
In the absence of an official nationwide database, a non-profit maintains a website intended to be a national registry of certificate or license revocations. The National Decertification Index provides access to records from agencies in 44 states and was created by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training.
Five states – Hawaii, Massachusetts, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island – do not certify officers, and one, Georgia, does decertify but doesn't contribute to the registry, said Mike Becar, executive director of the non-profit.
"More needs to be done," he said in an email. "First the NDI is voluntary so we have states like Georgia that don't contribute and the ones that do could stop at any time. Second, many states can only decertify for crimes, some only for felony convictions, but many forms of misconduct conducted by officers are not crimes but need to be investigated."
The registry is for use by law enforcement agencies but includes links, accessible by the public, to records from 11 states, not all of which include names in their documents.
Causes for decertification ranged from an officer calling in sick for his shift while drunk at a college football game to aggravated battery, drug use, and homicide.
The national outcry after the killing of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis has accelerated states moving toward greater transparency about bad actors in law enforcement, said Amber Widgery, who specializes in justice issues at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"We've seen unprecedented, swift responses," Ms. Widgery said.
- In Colorado, a police reform bill just signed into law mandates creation of a database like Oregon's by Jan. 1, 2022.
- A bill working its way through the New York Legislature would require a public database containing the names of any officer who has had their employment terminated due to misconduct.
- Ohio has pending bills that would establish a database of records of police officers' use of force.
State Sen. Lew Frederick, who was among lawmakers who sponsored the database bill in Oregon, said the push needs to go further.
"The next step is to have information more broadly available about discipline and complaints," Mr. Frederick said. "And have a robust system of effective community oversight boards watching use of force activities and hiring/transfer policies."
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal tried to accomplish at least part of that last month, by ordering all state, county, and local law enforcement agencies to divulge the names of law enforcement officers who commit serious disciplinary violations. The order is now on hold amid legal challenges from several police unions.
This story was reported by The Associated Press.
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