BY DIANE DIMOND
Truth be told, we do a pretty good job in this country of keeping track of automobiles, doctors and teachers. We do a pretty lousy job keeping track of rogue police officers.
That’s right. There is no comprehensive national system for tracking bad-seed officers. The result is so-called “gypsy cops,” who leave one police department only to move state to state, station house to station house, to find the next department that will issue them a badge and a gun.
Timothy Loehmann was one of them. He was the officer in Cleveland, Ohio, who in 2014 infamously responded to a call about a black male waving a gun in a public park. Video footage showed that within seconds of arriving and jumping out of the patrol car, Officer Loehmann and his partner, Officer Frank Garmback, opened fire on the suspect. He was 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and he had been holding a pellet gun. Rice died on the spot, as his older sister watched in horror.
Before Cleveland, Loehmann had applied to work at three Ohio law enforcement departments. He finally got a job as an officer in Independence, Ohio, but didn’t stay very long. A supervisor recommended he be fired for a lack of emotional stability and inability to follow orders, among other things. Nonetheless, the Cleveland Police Department hired Loehmann without fully vetting his background.
In 2004, Officer Sean Sullivan was working in Coquille, Oregon. He was caught kissing a 10-year-old girl. Prosecutors suggested that he was “grooming” the girl for a sexual relationship. His punishment included revocation of his police certificate and an order to never again work in any capacity as a police officer. But three months later, in an astonishing development, Sullivan was hired in Cedar Vail, Kansas, as — are you sitting down? — chief of police!
As chief, Sullivan was once again investigated for suspected sexual contact with a minor. The teen girl would not cooperate, and the investigation was dropped. But Sullivan was eventually convicted on burglary and criminal conspiracy charges. Today, he’s doing a stint in Washington State Prison for other charges, among them identity theft and possession of methamphetamine.
And get this one: Officer Eddie Boyd III lost his job with the St. Louis Police Department in Missouri after it found he had pistol-whipped a young girl in the face in 2006, and reportedly struck a high-school freshman in the face with handcuffs — though the student claimed he struck him with his gun — in 2007. Boyd resigned and turned up shortly thereafter as a sworn officer in nearby St. Ann, Missouri. After that, he was employed by the police force in Ferguson, Missouri — the place of days of protests after an unarmed 18-year-old black man was fatally shot by a white officer in 2014.
In 2015, Boyd was sued by a woman in Ferguson. A pedestrian accident occurred in front of her home, and she was out front with her neighbor. She says that when she asked for Boyd’s name — and he refused to give it — he “unreasonably arrested” her, knowing her young daughter was in the house and would be left alone.
Since no one keeps track, there’s no telling how many gypsy cops fail to reveal their sordid histories and go on to find policing jobs elsewhere. According to The New York Times, “Some experts say thousands of law enforcement officers may have drifted from police department to police department even after having been fired, forced to resign or convicted of a crime.”
Back in 2009, the Department of Justice gave the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training some $200,000 to start a national database of decertified officers. It sounded like a great idea, but not all states participated, and it is no longer funded by the DOJ. There are some 21,000 names on that list, and the association admittedly has a hard time keeping it current and answering inquiries. Also, there’s no way for this group to include the names of cops who were simply allowed to resign as opposed to being fired and decertified. Those officers could turn up anywhere — including in your town.
In an era where law enforcement behavior is front and center, at a time when there’s no official national database keeping track of officer-involved shootings, I’d think the least we could do is throw some cash toward maintaining a database that helps keep known bad apples out of from law enforcement.
Good cops like the idea. And it could be a great step toward rebuilding public trust in our police.
Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email [email protected]