Like many states, Colorado certifies its law enforcement officers. However, the state’s barriers to decertify officers are higher than those in other states. Being dismissed from one law enforcement agency, or even convicted of a crime, does not automatically make an officer ineligible for employment in another jurisdiction. And many police officers in Colorado have done exactly that.
Yesterday, the Denver Post ran a lengthy feature describing a revolving door of dismissed and disgraced police officers within the state of Colorado. Among other things, the Post found:
- At least six Denver officers who were fired or resigned amid allegations of wrongdoing in the past decade found work at other smaller agencies.
- Rogue cops can negotiate to keep past transgressions secret. Nadia Gatchell was fired from the Denver police force in 2012 for lies she told superiors during an investigation into abuse of off-duty secondary employment. The officer, who previously had been disciplined in Denver for destroying marijuana evidence, was able to keep the decision to fire her out of her personnel file by agreeing to drop a Civil Service appeal. The city’s safety manager at the time, Alex Martinez, agreed to remove her dismissal letter from her personnel file and have her file reflect that she had resigned.
- Gatchell, who declined to comment, went on to work at the Elizabeth Police Department for about a year after her firing. Now she’s working as a parole officer for the Department of Corrections, her fourth law enforcement job.
- Officers who have their certificate for police work revoked often are repeat offenders. Of the nearly 280 officers who have been decertified in the past decade in Colorado, at least 29 had past serious personnel issues or arrests. Many more likely are repeat offenders, but how many could not be determined because many agencies in the state won’t release discipline or personnel files for public review.
- About a third of those 280 decertified for police work in Colorado had worked at more than one police agency. Seven of those officers had shuffled to four or more police agencies before they ended up with a conviction that brought a final end to their careers in law enforcement.
- The state’s review panel, the Colorado Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, does not always keep up with those who aren’t employed by a police agency but remain certified for law enforcement work.
According to the article, at least 18 states “require agencies to inform state review panels when an officer is fired or resigns,” but Colorado is not one of them.
The Colorado legislature passed a new law to require police agencies to disclose to any new law enforcement employer if their former officer “sustained violations for making “knowing misrepresentations” during their employment.” While this is an improvement, the new law does not require disclosure of excessive force, destruction of evidence, or other violations unrelated to lying on official documents.
The legislature also tried but failed to expand the number the offenses that trigger decertification in the last session. As a result, officers with convictions for misdemeanor child abuse, second-degree arson, and many other crimes remain eligible to be hired as sworn officers around Colorado.
Colorado is not the only state that has problems with “shuffling” bad police officers. Recall that the officer who shot twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio was deemed unfit for law enforcement by his previous employer due to incompetence with firearms. The CPD did not review that information before hiring the officer.
States should shore-up their reporting requirements and decertification procedures to prevent officers who commit serious misconduct from hopping job-to-job.
There are many more disturbing stories in Post feature here. You can read my testimony on the opacity of police disciplinary files before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights here.