Fired once, some Texas police resurface elsewhere

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Associated Press

Posted on May 19, 2014 at 6:03 AM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Police officers fired from one Texas agency can end up finding work at another agency due in part to a law enforcement records system that even the director says is "broken," according to a newspaper report published Sunday.

While teachers, doctors and others licensed by the state can be barred for unprofessional conduct, police officers generally cannot, the Austin American-Statesman found (http://bit.ly/1geCydw ). And a records system that is supposed to denote when an officer's work is "dishonorable" has several major issues, said several people who work with it regularly.

"You can no longer trust it to tell you what it's supposed to," said Kim Vickers, executive director of the Texas Law Enforcement Commission, the state agency that monitors officers. "The system is broken."

Police chiefs are supposed to file a form for departing officers labeling their work "honorable," ''general" or "dishonorable." But the newspaper reported that officers fired for misconduct can still find work elsewhere.

Changes in state law mean police chiefs often must defend themselves anytime they mark "dishonorable" on the form, known as an F-5. Officers can appeal a "dishonorable" finding, and the officer's supervisor must then prove why they chose that label.

Police unions and others who support that requirement say it prevents supervisors from unfairly punishing officers or misusing the "dishonorable" charge. But police chiefs say the appeals process can take up lots of time and money — encouraging smaller agencies with limited resources to not bother.

"Are there small-town chiefs not checking 'dishonorable' when they should?" asked Christopher Davis, the state commission's former top lawyer. "Absolutely."

Vickers said he's familiar with a handful of cases in which police chiefs let an offending officer resign rather than be fired as long as the officer did not get a job nearby.

While the percentage of "honorable" departures has risen over the last five years from 74 percent to 85 percent, the proportion of "dishonorable" departures has stayed the same, at about 4 percent.

"It's not that there are not problem officers out there," Vickers said.

John Moritz, spokesman for Texas' largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, told the newspaper the group would support a better process of keeping problem officers off duty.

"We have no interest in putting an officer who has a proven record he is unfit back into the ranks," Moritz said.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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