How ‘Wandering Cops’ Exacerbate Police Abuse

How ‘Wandering Cops’ Exacerbate Police Abuse

In a previous post, I discussed how fired police officers are often able to get their jobs back by appealing their termination to independent arbitration and thus how only time will tell if the officers involved in the arrest and death of George Floyd will remain fired. Even if they are unable to return to their jobs as Minneapolis police officers, this does not mean that their law enforcement careers are over. There is growing recognition of the phenomenon of the “wandering officer,” or, as the great journalist of law enforcement abuse William Norman Grigg called it, the “gypsy cop.”

The wandering officer is one who is fired or “voluntarily resigns” in lieu of being fired and obtains employment with another law enforcement agency. Although many anecdotes about such officers exist, a recently published Yale Law Journal article by Ben Grunwald and John Rappaport presents the first systematic analysis of the wandering officer. Before discussing their data, Grunwald and Rappaport list a number of examples of wandering officers, including the following:

● Cleveland officer Tim Loehmann, who shot and killed twelve-year-old Tamir Rice, previously worked for the police department in Independence, Ohio, for five months. The Independence deputy police chief wrote a memo noting that Loehmann had resigned rather than face certain termination due to his dangerous loss of composure during firearms training. His supervisors expected that he would be unable to cope or make good decisions under stressful conditions. After being fired for failing to disclose this work history when he applied to the Cleveland Police Department, Loehmann was still able to obtain employment as a law enforcement officer for Belaire, Ohio.

● “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.’ 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.”

● “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 pepperspray incident.”

Grunwald and Rappaport were able to obtain employment data on all police officers in the state of Florida from 1988 to 2017, including the reasons for their firing and whether they resigned in lieu of being fired. They found that in any given year of their study, an average of just under one thousand wandering officers were working as agents of law enforcement in the state of Florida, making up 3-4 percent of all law enforcement officers in the state.1Grunwald and Rappaport believe that, if anything, this is a lowball estimate of the number of wandering officers, since it does not include officers who moved across state lines and those who successfully lied about their employment history. Further, it should not be considered nationally representative, since Florida is relatively strict in terms of decertifying officers and requiring certain background checks for new hires. This may not sound like a lot, but police misconduct is not evenly distributed. Research of the Chicago Police Department by Kyle Rozema and Max Schanzenbach, for example, found that the worst one percent of officers, as measured by civilian complaints, generate nearly five times the number of payouts and more than four times the total damage payouts in civil rights litigation compared to the average officer. In Florida, Grunwald and Rappaport found that compared to new recruits or experienced hires who have never been fired, the wandering officers were much more likely to be fired again and more likely to be fired for engaging in misconduct. Clearly, then, focusing on terminating and preventing the rehire of officers with a demonstrated history of misconduct would disproportionately reduce the amount of misconduct that occurs.

So why isn’t this happening, or at least not to a greater degree than it has? Why would departments even consider hiring an officer who has been fired from another law enforcement agency? There are a number of reasons for this. One is that such job candidates are financially attractive, at least in the short run, compared to new recruits who have to be paid while they undergo training at the police academy and cannot be deployed to the street right away. But, in some cases, hiring police agencies do not know the history of the person they’re hiring.

This was the case with two hires of the West Palm Beach Police Department. One of them had worked for six different departments in Tennessee and Georgia in five years. He resigned from the department in Chattanooga after two complaints of brutality and after his drug problem with marijuana became known. He promised the police commissioner in Chattanooga that he would no longer work in Georgia, Tennessee, or Alabama but would go to southern Florida, disclosing none of these issues to the West Palm Beach Police Department. The other hired officer, while employed by the Riviera Beach Police Department, had beaten an arrested man, blinding him in one eye, resulting in an $80,000 judgment. When the department in West Palm Beach asked the department in Riviera Beach whether there was any derogatory information regarding this applicant, they had reported that they were not aware of any such information even though the beating had occurred five months prior. In 1990, these two officers stopped Robert Jewett for attempting to hitchhike. A struggle ensued, and Jewett was beaten to death. Although both officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal investigation, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported that had the West Palm Beach Police Department been aware of these officers’ histories, they would never have been hired and Jewett might still be alive.

Roger Goldman and Steven Puro note that “At the time of the Jewett killing, Florida law did require chiefs to send the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (CJSTC) a report where they had cause to suspect the officer had committed decertifiable conduct.” Although they had been legally required to do so, the Riviera Beach Police Department did not notify the CJSTC of their officer’s beating and blinding of a suspect. Regarding the officer who had previously worked in Chattanooga, Tennessee law allowed the state Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission to revoke the certificate of an officer who had been suspended or terminated for disciplinary reasons, but the regulations did not cover those who had resigned.

Currently, in forty-five states, to become a law enforcement officer requires a certification—essentially an occupational license—from a state-level entity.2According to Roger L. Goldman, the five states in which a police officer cannot be decertified require that barbers have an occupational license. See “A Model Decertification Law,” Saint Louis University Public Law Review 32, no. 1 (2012): 147–56. In most states, this body is called the POST. The rules for decertifying officers vary widely by state, and some standards are rather low. For example, twenty states require a criminal conviction before an officer can be decertified.3See Loren T. Atherley and Matthew J. Hickman “Officer Decertification and the National Decertification Index,” Police Quarterly 16, no. 4 (December 2013): 420–37 for a good summary. Note, however, that since its publication more states allow for decertification, making it dated in some respects. There exists a National Decertification Index (NDI), a database containing the names of decertified officers that can be referenced by POSTs (or their equivalent) and some law enforcement agencies. Reporting decertified officers to the NDI is voluntary, however, and not every agency does it. Further, only twenty-eight POSTs say that they “always” or “frequently” query the NDI. Despite the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommending that the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services partner with the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training “to expand its National Decertification Index to serve as the National Register of Decertified Officers with the goal of covering all agencies within the United States and its territories,” this recommendation has not been implemented, and wandering officers are able to make it through the cracks.

Compared to other proposed police reforms, making sure that police agencies report decertified officers to the NDI and reference it in making their hiring decisions does not face a hard tradeoff4For example, reforms that reduce police protections would require that officers be paid higher wages and might encourage officers to engage in “depolicing.” and there is no clear concentrated interest group to oppose it (e.g., police unions have little interest in expending resources to aid wandering officers who are not paying dues). Roger Goldman considers such a coordinated reform between states “an opportunity for cooperative federalism.” Given the fact that he wrote that back in 2003 and the law enforcement entities who could implement it have dragged their feet on such an obvious, seemingly noncontroversial reform leads one to question how interested they are in reducing misconduct.

Tate Fegley is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Center for Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh. This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

Why Its Hard To Fire Abusive Cops

Why Its Hard To Fire Abusive Cops

What does it take to fire a cop? In comparison to several other high-profile cases in which a police officer has killed someone on video, things have moved remarkably fast in the George Floyd case. The other four officers involved in his arrest were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department the following day. By comparison,

  • Fellow Minnesota officer Jeronimo Yanez, who on July 6, 2016, shot and killed Philando Castille in his vehicle after Castille informed him that he was armed, was not relieved until after he was acquitted for manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm on May 30, 2017. He was given a $48,500 buyout to leave the St. Anthony department.
  • Cleveland officer Timothy Loehmann, who shot twelve-year-old Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014, was also fired on May 30, 2017. However, his firing was due to withholding information on his job application rather than killing a child who held an airsoft gun.
  • NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner over not paying taxes on cigarettes, was not fired until August 19, 2019, a full five years after the latter’s death on July 17, 2014. He plans to file an appeal to get his job back.
  • Philip Brailsford, who shot Daniel Shaver while he lay prone in the hallway of a hotel in Mesa, Arizona, on January 18, 2016, was fired in March of that year. However, he was reinstated in August 2018 for forty-two days in order that he could be medically retired for PTSD (due to his shooting of Shaver) and receive a $2,500 monthly pension.

What I would like to emphasize here, however, is that a police officer being fired is often not the end of the story. Even though the officers involved in Floyd’s death have been fired, they may not stay fired. Many officers, through their collective bargaining agreements and statutes, enjoy the right to appeal their termination to independent arbitration, which often results in their reinstatement.

Mark Iris, a researcher at Northwestern, studied years’ worth of police arbitration decisions in Chicago and Houston and found that in both cities arbitrators overturned disciplinary decisions half the time. Tyler Adams analyzed every published arbitration decision regarding a police officer’s discharge between 2011 and 2015, finding them overturned 46.7 percent of the time. One notable finding from Adams’s research is that an officer’s disciplinary record was raised by one or both parties in nearly every analyzed decision, with those with positive work histories being more likely to be reinstated than those who without them. A potential difficulty with this is that many police union contracts require that misconduct be removed from an officer’s record after a certain period. According to Stephen Rushin’s analysis of one hundred seventy-eight of the largest cities’ police union contracts, eighty-seven (including Minneapolis’s) contain such provisions. Some, such as that of Columbus, Ohio, even prohibit the use of an officer’s history as a factor in determining the propriety of disciplinary action in later investigations.

The ability to appeal to arbitrators has led to many questionable reinstatements. One was Pittsburgh officer Paul Abel, who on one night in 2008 consumed four beers and two shots of liquor. After leaving his wife’s birthday party, Abel claimed to have been sucker-punched in his car while at a stoplight. He retrieved his Glock from the trunk of his car and drove in pursuit of his attacker. Driving around the block, he spotted Kaleb Miller, whom he knew from the neighborhood and believed to be the person who had punched him. Abel then pistol-whipped Miller on his neck and accidentally shot him in the hand. Witnesses testified that the assailant who punched Abel was not Miller. Despite being arrested and fired, Paul Abel successfully appealed his termination. In this respect, Abel is not alone among Pittsburgh police officers:

In December 2009, Eugene1It is interesting to note that Paul Abel and Eugene Hlavac were, respectively, the ninth and first most highly paid employees of the city of Pittsburgh in 2012, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times. was accused of slapping his ex-girlfriend (and his son’s mother) so hard that he dislocated her jaw. And in November 2010, Garrett Brown was accused of running two delivery-truck drivers off the road in a fit of rage—an allegation similar to those made against Brown in at least one other late-night traffic encounter.

Each of these men, who were all Pittsburgh Police officers at the time of the incidents, shares a common experience: They all were fired, charged criminally, cleared of those charges…and then got their jobs back through arbitration. And they’re not alone. Nine officers were fired by the city between 2009 and 2013, but five of those terminations were overturned by an arbitrator….In cases where terminations were appealed by the police union through arbitration, officers got their jobs back close to 70 percent of the time.

We should expect that the officers involved in the arrest and killing of George Floyd will also appeal their termination. Should they be unsuccessful in this, however, they may be able to find employment as police officers elsewhere. Although most states have some kind of standardized training and licensing of police officers, decertification of fired officers can be notoriously difficult, leading to the phenomenon of the “wandering officer” who goes from department to department. I will discuss this in a future post.

Tate Fegley is a 2018 Mises Institute Fellow, and winner of the 2018 Grant Aldrich Prize for Best Graduate Student paper at the Austrian Economics Research Confernce. He is currently a graduate student at George Mason University. His CV can be found at TateFegley.com. This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

There Is No ‘War on Cops’

There Is No ‘War on Cops’

With the FBI releasing the 2016 Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted data this month, reports on police deaths have once again found their way into headlines. Such reports offer a great illustration of how reporting the same facts in different ways can dramatically change how big a problem seems to be. Also interesting is the information that is reported depending on the media outlet. NPR, for example, emphasizes the number of police killed with firearms specifically, rather than the general category of “feloniously.” Fox News will emphasize the “War on Cops” narrative while reporting total officer deaths rather than violent officer deaths, presumably because the former is a bigger number. This is misleading, however, since it includes deaths due to things such as heart attacks, accidents, and extreme weather.

Something to watch out for is when percentage changes are reported while excluding some of the raw numbers on which they are based. In this example, CBS News reports that “the number of police killed in the line of duty rose sharply in 2016,” with a “56 percent increase in shooting deaths over the previous year.” They do report the raw number of police shot to death in 2016 – 64 – but not the previous year’s, which was 41. This is an increase of 23 deaths in a country with over 900,000 sworn law enforcement personnel according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Reporting that a police officer’s chance of being killed went up from 0.00455% to 0.00711% (that is, 41/900,000 to 64/900,000), if it doesn’t confuse the reader, will likely make the violent shooting death of a police officer seem like a relatively rare event.

Additional context is provided by looking at trends in officer deaths from gunfire over the last decade (data from Officer Down Memorial Page):

2007: 67
2008: 41
2009: 48
2010: 59
2011: 68
2012: 48
2013: 32
2014: 48
2015: 41
2016: 63

Looking at these numbers, it’s difficult to consider 2016 an outlier or any indication of a “war on cops.” Further context is provided by looking at longer trends:

policedeaths.png

Source: Officer Down Memorial Page. Violent Deaths include those due to assault, bombing, gunfire, stabbing, terrorism, and vehicular assault.

As can be seen in the graph, there has been a downward trend in officer deaths over the last few decades. In 2016, the number of police officers killed by gunfire was less than half of what it was in the early seventies. Contrary to the narrative of there being a war on cops, rather than a series of isolated incidents of violence against police officers, the number of officers being killed is going down while the number of people employed as police officers goes up.

To provide even further context in terms of how dangerous of an occupation policing is, one can look at the fatal injury rates data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Looking at the data for 2015 (which are the most recent available), one finds that “Police and sheriff’s patrol officers” are not in the top 30 for fatal injury rates, ranking behind occupations such as logging, mining, fishing, farming, aquaculture, aircraft piloting, roofing, collecting refuse, iron and steel working, trucking, power-line installing, landscaping, construction, waste management, cement manufacturing, taxi driving, and mechanical repair.

This raises the question of why so many believe police officers ought to hold an esteemed position in our society. As Mises argues in Bureaucracy:

That the police department’s work is so efficient that the citizens are fairly well protected against murder, robbery, and theft does not oblige the rest of the people to be more grateful to the police officers than to any other fellow citizens rendering useful services. The police officer and the fireman have no better claim to the public’s gratitude than the doctors, the railroad engineers, the welders, the sailors, or the manufacturers of any useful commodity…It is true that society could not do without the services rendered by patrolmen…But it is no less true that everyone would suffer great damage if there were no scavengers, chimney sweepers, dishwashers, and bug exterminators.

Given that private security personnel don’t hold such an esteemed position despite providing protection against murder, robbery, and theft means that elevating the status of the government police officer is a manifestation of statolatry. However, by carefully looking at the data and the long term trends, rather than short-term spikes, we can see that there is little evidence of a “war on cops” or that being a cop is especially dangerous compared to several other occupations that are not held in such high regard.

Reprinted with permission from the Mises Institute.

There Is No ‘War on Cops’

There Is No 'War on Cops'

With the FBI releasing the 2016 Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted data this month, reports on police deaths have once again found their way into headlines. Such reports offer a great illustration of how reporting the same facts in different ways can dramatically change how big a problem seems to be. Also interesting is the information that is reported depending on the media outlet. NPR, for example, emphasizes the number of police killed with firearms specifically, rather than the general category of “feloniously.” Fox News will emphasize the “War on Cops” narrative while reporting total officer deaths rather than violent officer deaths, presumably because the former is a bigger number. This is misleading, however, since it includes deaths due to things such as heart attacks, accidents, and extreme weather.
Something to watch out for is when percentage changes are reported while excluding some of the raw numbers on which they are based. In this example, CBS News reports that “the number of police killed in the line of duty rose sharply in 2016,” with a “56 percent increase in shooting deaths over the previous year.” They do report the raw number of police shot to death in 2016 – 64 – but not the previous year’s, which was 41. This is an increase of 23 deaths in a country with over 900,000 sworn law enforcement personnel according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Reporting that a police officer’s chance of being killed went up from 0.00455% to 0.00711% (that is, 41/900,000 to 64/900,000), if it doesn’t confuse the reader, will likely make the violent shooting death of a police officer seem like a relatively rare event.
Additional context is provided by looking at trends in officer deaths from gunfire over the last decade (data from Officer Down Memorial Page):
2007: 67
2008: 41
2009: 48
2010: 59
2011: 68
2012: 48
2013: 32
2014: 48
2015: 41
2016: 63
Looking at these numbers, it’s difficult to consider 2016 an outlier or any indication of a “war on cops.” Further context is provided by looking at longer trends:

policedeaths.png

Source: Officer Down Memorial Page. Violent Deaths include those due to assault, bombing, gunfire, stabbing, terrorism, and vehicular assault.
As can be seen in the graph, there has been a downward trend in officer deaths over the last few decades. In 2016, the number of police officers killed by gunfire was less than half of what it was in the early seventies. Contrary to the narrative of there being a war on cops, rather than a series of isolated incidents of violence against police officers, the number of officers being killed is going down while the number of people employed as police officers goes up.
To provide even further context in terms of how dangerous of an occupation policing is, one can look at the fatal injury rates data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Looking at the data for 2015 (which are the most recent available), one finds that “Police and sheriff’s patrol officers” are not in the top 30 for fatal injury rates, ranking behind occupations such as logging, mining, fishing, farming, aquaculture, aircraft piloting, roofing, collecting refuse, iron and steel working, trucking, power-line installing, landscaping, construction, waste management, cement manufacturing, taxi driving, and mechanical repair.
This raises the question of why so many believe police officers ought to hold an esteemed position in our society. As Mises argues in Bureaucracy:
That the police department’s work is so efficient that the citizens are fairly well protected against murder, robbery, and theft does not oblige the rest of the people to be more grateful to the police officers than to any other fellow citizens rendering useful services. The police officer and the fireman have no better claim to the public’s gratitude than the doctors, the railroad engineers, the welders, the sailors, or the manufacturers of any useful commodity…It is true that society could not do without the services rendered by patrolmen…But it is no less true that everyone would suffer great damage if there were no scavengers, chimney sweepers, dishwashers, and bug exterminators.
Given that private security personnel don’t hold such an esteemed position despite providing protection against murder, robbery, and theft means that elevating the status of the government police officer is a manifestation of statolatry. However, by carefully looking at the data and the long term trends, rather than short-term spikes, we can see that there is little evidence of a “war on cops” or that being a cop is especially dangerous compared to several other occupations that are not held in such high regard.
Reprinted with permission from the Mises Institute.

End the State’s Monopoly on Policing

End the State’s Monopoly on Policing

Compared to the general population, advocates of a minimal state and those of a stateless society overwhelmingly agree on a vast majority of political issues. I wish to argue here that there should be at least one more agreement between them than there traditionally has been: policing services need not be monopolized by the state and would be more efficiently provided by the private sector.

Almost every individual who has argued for the desirability of having policing services provided in a free market does not stop there, but applies the same reasoning to other services monopolized by the traditional minimal state and thus conclude that a stateless society is optimal. Unconvinced minarchist libertarians, given the choice between their ideal minimal state — one that provides policing, courts, and the military — and a stateless society, will tend to stick with the former.1

An alternative that is seldom considered, however, is one in which private enterprise competes to meet consumer preferences for policing within a state system. Such a framework is immune to criticisms of the stability of a stateless society, such as that by Tyler Cowen, who argues that arbitration networks in a stateless society would eventually collude and resemble a state.2

In this alternative framework, where the state still possesses a monopoly on the legitimized initiation of force within a geographical territory, concerns such as protection agencies enforcing very disparate legal rules are moot. These agencies would only enforce generally recognized property rights (that is, rogue agencies violating property rights would be opposed by both other agencies and the state).

A non sequitur frequently made by those advocating a minimal state — including Robert Nozick, who argued that there is a natural monopoly in the field of providing police protection — is that a monopoly on the use of force necessarily implies a monopoly on policing. After all, the marketplace already provides numerous policing services and amenities including burglar alarms, locks, rent-a-cops, and bodyguards, not to mention services such as Neighborhood Watch and emergency services substitutes such as the PeaceKeeper App. When we consider “policing” to include the things many want government police to do as well as the goods and services purchased in the market for security, we notice that having a comparative advantage in the use of physical violence does not necessarily cause one to be the most successful service provider. People want police to be courteous, conscientious, and reasonable; they do not simply want them to be the best martial artists or sharpshooters.

We also notice that the quantity and quality of security demanded far outstrips the quantity supplied by government police. No great imagination is needed to describe a world where policing services are provided by private enterprise within a state: this is the world in which we currently live. As I have written previously:

[T]here are an estimated 3 persons employed in private security for every public cop. … Private policing isn’t some fantasy, and it isn’t just a luxury enjoyed by the rich: every time you enter a shopping mall, go to a department store, visit an amusement park, enjoy a live professional sporting event, or use PayPal, you are being protected by people trying to maximize profit.

All we need imagine are these services being provided on a larger scale. Precisely how these services would be provided would be determined by entrepreneurs and the competitive process. Compared to the centralized, bureaucratic policing with which we are familiar, we would likely see far greater emphasis on prevention (rather than responding to crimes after they have occurred), de-escalation tactics with violence being used as a last resort (since entrepreneurs, rather than taxpayers, would be on the hook for civil damages), and much more accountability (because customers could take their business elsewhere).

Furthermore, such an institutional change could have wide appeal beyond only people who desire a small state. Those who are concerned about the police’s respect for civil liberties and their treatment of minorities and the poor, but who are not necessarily in favor of smaller government, should appreciate the empowerment that competition and choice bring to the consumer. Individuals and communities being able to fire the police and replace them would do far more to ensure high quality policing than protests, civilian oversight boards, or federal consent decrees ever will.

Ultimately, the government need not be in the business of the provision of policing any more than it need be in the provision of shoes. For those who believe a state is necessary to define “the rules of the game,” be a final decision-maker in legal disputes, and ensure individual rights are protected, a government monopoly on policing is not only unnecessary but may even be counterproductive.


  • 1.The only exception of which I am aware is John Hasnas, who has made a similar argument about how a truly minimal state would be smaller than is traditionally conceived.
  • 2.Cowen, T. (1992). “Law as a public good: the economics of anarchy.” Economics and Philosophy, 8(02): 249-267.

Republished from the Mises Institute.

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