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The ‘Office Shuffle’: Ohio Police Recycle Bad Apples Among Rural Departments

by Matt Clarke

An Ohio police officer who resigns under a cloud of pending disciplinary action or who is fired may not have reached the end of a law enforcement career. In some Ohio towns, employment as a police officer in another department is just down the road.

WCPO Cincinnati collected disciplinary records from 40 police departments in the Tri-State area and discovered that police officers who resign rather than face severe disciplinary action or termination are being hired by other police departments. Often the new department is lax on checking prior employment history and does not know about the previous disciplinary issues. Unfortunately, some of the officers continue the same practices that forced them out of their previous jobs.

WCPO found that some departments fail to do even the most basic of background checks. That’s what happened when the New Miami Police Department hired Joe Redmond, who avoided criminal charges by resigning his post as a Colerain Township police sergeant after he improperly used Ohio’s Law Enforcement Automated Data System (“LEADS”) to access information about his then-fiancée and a man who was dating one of his co-workers with whom he was also involved. That was criminal unauthorized use of the computer system. The co-worker claimed Redmond also followed her home, repeatedly stopped by her home, and drove by the other man’s home while on duty. The department let him resign in lieu of filing criminal charges.

Only after he hired Redmond did New Miami Police Chief Danny Gilbert discover that Redmond was subject to a lifetime suspension from LEADS. In his request to reinstate Redmond’s access, Gilbert wrote, “I have been in law enforcement for 32 years and consider myself a strong judge of a person’s character and honesty.” System administrators decided to reinstate Redmond’s LEADS access but warned that New Miami would be liable for any misuse. Less than a year later, another former fiancée complained that Redmond had used LEADS to gain information about her. New Miami fired Redmond soon thereafter.

Jacob Goodwin resigned as a Village of Newton police officer about a year after he started work there. He had been told that multiple pending disciplinary actions would result in his termination. The last one involved a woman discovering Goodwin in her home in the middle of the night. He was given the opportunity to resign rather than being fired. He was soon hired by the Aberdeen Police Department but resigned after about a year for unspecified reasons.

Goodwin was then hired by the Elmwood Place Police Department and continued his pattern of poor decision making and receiving complaints. Two years later, he was fired after he was found going in and out of consciousness on duty at the police department and refused to submit a urine sample. About a year later, he was arrested for six counts of aggravated robbery and seven counts of robbery.

Elmwood Place police officer Justin Habig received more complaints than any other officer. In one week alone, he received four complaints—the number most officers amass over the course of two or more years. He reportedly harassed and threatened to shoot people from vehicles he had stopped. A woman complained that he repeatedly kicked her, then shoved her into a police car when she was six and a half months pregnant. Finally, after less than two years with the department, he was fired for “unsatisfactory performance.”

Habig’s law enforcement career was far from over. He got a position with the Addyston Police Department and then the Cleves Police Department.

“Some researchers refer to this as the ‘officer shuffle,’ moving them from one agency to another after getting in trouble,” according to Phil Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University. “It’s a problem.”

Stinson explained that many smaller police departments cannot afford to send a recruit to a police academy. Instead, they have to hire people who are already certified peace officers. “As a result, you do provide opportunities for people who have washed out from one agency to be hired in other places,” said Stinson.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine argues that police officers should be required to turn in their peace officer certificate when fired or allowed to resign in lieu of disciplinary action. He also suggests that the state create and maintain a database documenting sustained police misconduct as a way to reduce officer shuffle. However, he did not say he has any plan to implement either suggestion. So Ohio will just have to contend with the shuffle of bad officers between rural police departments, and that puts residents at risk. 



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