The Wandering Officer.

Author:Grunwald, Ben
 
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ARTICLE CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 1680 I. THE LAW-ENFORCEMENT LABOR MARKET 1691 A. Hiring 1691 B. Discipline 1693 II. LITERATURE REVIEW 1698 A. Correlates of Police Misconduct 1698 B. Labor Economics 1702 III. DATA 1704 A. Automated Training Management System (ATMS) 1704 B. Supplemental Data Sources 1709 C. Limitations 1710 IV. DESCRIBING THE WANDERING OFFICER 1711 A. The Law-Enforcement Labor Market in Florida 1712 1. Hirings 1712 2. Separations 1713 B. The Wandering Officer 1716 l. How Common Are Wandering Officers ? 1716 2. How Easily Do Wandering Officers Find New Work? 1718 a. Reemployment Rates 1719 b. Time to Reemployment 1722 c. Distance Traveled for Reemployment 1724 d. Number of Subsequent Jobs 1724 3. Where Do Wandering Officers Go? 1727 a. Agency Size 1727 b. Agency Resources 1728 c. Racial Composition 1729 d. Unemployment 1731 e. Crime 1733 4. Do Wandering Officers Engage in More Misconduct? 1734 a. Firing 1734 b. Complaints 1741 c. Explanations 1747 V. PREDICTING WHICH WANDERING OFFICERS GET FIRED AGAIN 1754 VI. MECHANISMS AND REFORMS 1758 A. Poor Information 1758 B. Unawareness of Risk 1761 C. Inadequate Alternatives 1762 D. Countervailing Benefits 1764 E. Cost Externalization 1767 CONCLUSION 1771 APPENDIX 1772 INTRODUCTION

With all that has been said and written about the tragic death of twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, one fact attracts less attention than it should: the officer who fired the fatal shot had been "allowed... to resign" from his previous job in Independence, Ohio, after suffering a "dangerous loss of composure" during firearms training. (1) According to his supervisors, Tim Loehmann "would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions" in stressful scenarios. (2) A year or so later, however, the Cleveland Police Department failed to review Loehmann's personnel file before giving him a gun. (3) Another Ohio department later hired Loehmann after he killed Rice and was fired by Cleveland. (4)

This story is not unique. Consider what happened in tiny Tulia, Texas. In a massive early-morning raid on July 23, 1999, police arrested a full fifth of Tulia's black adults. (5) After parading them across the courthouse lawn in their night-clothes, Tulia authorities charged the arrestees--roughly forty out of fifty of whom were black--with felony drug offenses. The evidence in each case consisted of the testimony of a single undercover narcotics officer, Tom Coleman. Coleman claimed he had purchased drugs, mostly powder cocaine, from each of the defendants--over one hundred buys in total. Most were convicted, their sentences ranging from 20 to 361 years. The State crowned Coleman "Lawman of the Year."

Under pressure from the media and postconviction litigation, Coleman's cases later began to crumble. Coleman, it turns out, had never recorded his buys, nor were there any witnesses; most of the time, there was no corroboration of any sort. No drugs, money, or weapons had been seized during the raid. Coleman's written reports were vague. He misidentified suspects, some of whom had rock-solid alibis. And marijuana and crack, not powder cocaine, were the prevalent vices in Tulia's impoverished black community. By 2003, Coleman's credibility was shredded. He was indicted for perjury. Seeing the writing on the wall, the prosecutors eventually joined the trial judge in recommending that the convictions be vacated. In August 2003, the governor pardoned the Tulia defendants.

Much of what brought Coleman down stemmed from what the New York Times called his "wretched work history." (6) His first job was at a jail in the City of Pecos, (7) where he was "lazy and inattentive at work and in constant danger of being fired." (8) He "abruptly quit" and left the state, only to return and find work as a deputy at the nearby Pecos County Sheriffs Office. (9) After five years there, Coleman again "abruptly left town... owing thousands of dollars in delinquent bills." (10) After a "brief stint as a jailer" in Denton County, Coleman became a sheriff's deputy in Cochran County. (11) He lasted about two years there, slapping town after the county attorney witnessed him stealing gas from the county pumps. (12) He owed thousands of dollars to local businesses. (13) The Cochran County Sheriff sent an angry letter about Coleman to the State. "Coleman should not be in law enforcement," the sheriff wrote, "if he is going to do people the way he did this town." (14)

At this point, Coleman managed to join the regional task force that sent him to Tulia. The task force hired Coleman despite a background check revealing that he "was a discipline problem, that he was 'too gung ho,' that he had been accused of kidnapping his son in a custody battle,... and... that he had... 'possible mental problems.'" (15) During Coleman's tenure with the task force, Cochran County indicted him for stealing the gas and notified Swisher County, where Tulia sits. (16) The Swisher County Sheriffs Office arrested Coleman--during the undercover operation--but he never faced trial and the charges were dropped. (17) Even after leaving Tulia, Coleman continued to bounce around. In the eighteen months after departing, Coleman worked for three different task forces. He was fired from the third, in Waxahachie, for sleeping with a sex worker who was an informant for his then-employer. (18)

Coleman is the archetypal "wandering officer," or what those in policing circles have called a "gypsy cop." These are police officers who are fired or who resign under threat of termination and later find work in law enforcement elsewhere. (19) And although Coleman and Loehmann are prime examples, there are scores of others. Indeed, as the following examples show, wandering officers appear all over.

* While William Melendez was working for the Detroit Police Department in 1997, local prosecutors alleged that he had leveled false accusations of drug possession. The federal government later indicted him for planting evidence, filing bogus reports, and perjury (he was acquitted). Melendez was forced out of the department in 2007 after his license lapsed. Two other Michigan municipalities--Highland Park and then Inkster--put Melendez back on the street. In 2015, while in Inkster, Melendez brutally beat a motorist about the head, leading to a $1.4 million civil settlement and two criminal convictions. (20)

* While worldng for the St. Louis Police Department in 2006, Eddie Boyd III pistol-whipped a twelve-year-old girl; a year later, he struck another child in the face with his gun or handcuffs before falsifying a report. Shortly after he resigned his position with St. Louis, Boyd was hired in St. Ann, Missouri, and later, again, in Ferguson. (21)

* Nicholas Hogan, an officer with the Tukwila Police Department in Washington, pepper-sprayed a suspect who was restrained on a gurney in a hospital in 2011. Hogan was federally indicted for the act and Tukwila fired him. In 2012, the police department in nearby Snoqualmie hired him only to fire him later for having an affair with the wife of a fellow officer. He was also subsequently incarcerated for the pepper-spray incident. (22)

* New Orleans Police Department officer Carey Dykes was "sued for alleged brutality, accused of having sex with a prostitute while on duty and caught sleeping in his patrol car instead of responding to a shooting." (23) An internal affairs investigation found seventeen violations of department rules. New Orleans fired Dykes in 2001. Later the same year, Dykes found police work at the Delgado Community College in New Orleans and then the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. (24)

Additional examples abound, each as shocking as the last. (25) Yet the scope and nature of the wandering-officer phenomenon are difficult to pin down. Some experts, from their own experience, or from anecdotes like these, insist that wandering officers are legion (26)--and possibly increasingly so. (27) Others deny that wandering officers exist (28) or discern an exaggerated narrative cobbled together from cherry-picked anecdotes that distort broader realities. (29) When the rhetoric is swept away, "[i]t is unclear how far-reaching such problems may be." (30) As policing expert Samuel Walker has remarked: "It is believed to be a problem nationwide. The phrase 'gypsy cops' has come up. There's not any solid research on that. We don't know how common it is." (31)

The answer matters. If wandering officers are rampant and dangerous, identifying and stopping them should be a police-reform priority--especially because, by their nature, they touch new communities with each move. And "[p]oor communities," writes Monica Bell, "are more likely to hire 'gypsy cops'... because their resource constraints make it more difficult for them to discriminate between good and bad officers." (32) The answer also matters because, for many individuals, policing represents--indeed, embodies--"the law." (33) Law-enforcement officers interact with tens of millions of American residents each year, (34) many of whom have little other contact with the state. (35) And "[t]he behavior of individual police officers" in these encounters "communicates information to members of the public that they use to make judgments about the nature of legal authority within their society." (36)

If wandering officers are just scapegoats, however, they may distract from other, more pressing problems in policing. After all, just because some wandering officers commit misconduct does not mean that, ex ante, they were any more likely to do so than their peers. Plenty of officers who have never been fired end up breaking the rules. In some other labor settings, experts have recognized that past experience does not predict future performance. "Malpractice claims against physicians," for example, "are simply too stochastic to lend them much credence as an indicator of physician quality or risk." (37)

This Article brings much-needed data to the debate. It...

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