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Improvements to Decertification Procedure for Law Enforcement Officers Guilty of Excessive Force Urgently Needed

by Douglas Ankney

In April 2023, Myles Cosgrove was hired by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department in Kentucky. But about three years earlier, Cosgrove was fired by the Louisville Police Department (“LPD”). Cosgrove had been one of the three officers who fired their guns during the ludicrous early-morning raid that resulted in the murder of Breonna Taylor by police. Cosgrove slithered through the criminal justice system, escaping criminal charges. But the LPD fired him for violating their use-of-force procedures and not using his body camera. Even though Cosgrove was fired for egregious misconduct, he was allowed to keep his police certification and go elsewhere to work as a cop.

Cosgrove is not an outlier. Of the 54 cops involved in 14 high-profile killings that prompted widespread protests over the past nine years, just 10 officers had their certifications revoked as a disciplinary measure. And those came rather recently. According to The Intercept, between 2014 and 2020, none of the officers involved in the killings faced a disciplinary hearing before a board or agency with authority to revoke their certification.

But that began to change in 2020 with the death of George Floyd and the ensuing worldwide firestorm it sparked. Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin, along with the three other officers involved, were stripped of their licenses.

State boards with the power to decertify officers originated in the wake of the Black-led rebellions against abusive police practices in 1967. Many states, but not all, have such boards.

But when these boards do decertify officers, their decisions are not reported. Apparently, most decertified officers simply go elsewhere and get hired again. For example, in New York, dozens of decertified officers were later rehired by other police departments or public safety agencies.

Compounding the problem are the disparate standards. In some states, conviction of a felony results in decertification. But cops in Louisiana who have been convicted of serious offenses, including murder and sexual assault, have kept their law enforcement certification.

Bad cops have other means of escaping accountability. For instance, when suspected of misconduct and under investigation, cops will often quit their jobs and go to work for a different law enforcement agency. The investigations either stall or are simply closed. It’s shocking almost beyond belief that states have boards to revoke a barber’s license yet do not have a board with the power to decertify a person who has been authorized to use lethal force against others.

Every state must have a board or tribunal empowered to conduct hearings on whether to decertify and remove a person from employment as a law enforcement officer. The board or tribunal needs to consist of unbiased, neutral factfinders. There must be uniform standards delineating when decertification is required and those standards must be enforced. Those standards must be applied even when the officer being investigated quits or transfers to another agency. And a decertification must be logged into a centralized location that is accessible for checking those who apply for a position in law enforcement or public safety. Ideally, these same rules would apply to federal law enforcement agencies as well.

Brett Hankison resigned from his position at the police department in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2002. At that time, his supervisor wrote he “would not recommend [Hankinson] for reemployment at any time in the future” because Hankison “habitually violated orders, shirked supervision, and had an overall bad attitude.” Who is Brett Hankinson? He was the officer fired 17 years later by the LPD for shooting 10 bullets through Breonna Taylor’s covered window and sliding glass door. This must not be allowed to continue.   



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