This past Friday, the nation took an important step forward in its collective healing with the sentencing of Derek Chauvin. With this sentencing, the judicial system held Chauvin accountable for his actions while also providing a stark reminder that we need to do more to prevent future police misconduct. The solution to this problem should be driven with greater accountability and transparency rather than rely on retroactive justice and accountability from the courts.
Unfortunately, within our national policing system, there is a lack of centralized information on police misconduct and termination. This coupled with state laws and police union contracts that often shield records from view provide opportunities for officers disciplined or fired for misconduct to find work in other jurisdictions. In addition to the senseless deaths, this lack of clarity and accountability has caused city governments and taxpayers to pay millions of dollars each year in misconduct settlements and high risk officers to be 50 percent more likely to be fired for future misconduct.
A national police misconduct registry would provide this critical transparency and accountability in policing, providing substantial benefits, including safeguarding the lives of Black Americans by reducing the risk of bad hires and the transfer or promotion of officers with misconduct records.
Unfortunately, the current platforms in place, like State Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commissions and the National Decertification Index (NDI), are simply not holistic or aggressive enough to address this issue on a national level. POST Commissions, which set the standards for officer certification and decertification, are not available in every state and their officer standards vary widely from state to state.
The NDI is a place to identify those officers that have been decertified, however the reporting to the NDI is strictly voluntary and does not include any information related to officer misconduct. Neither of these entities prevent, as an example, an officer with countless misconduct incidents on their record, to simply resign from one jurisdiction and be hired by another, down the street or across the country.
However, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, H.R. 1280 currently includes language to establish a national police misconduct registry and would seek to prevent high-risk officers from getting hired by other state or federal law enforcement agencies that are unaware of their previous inappropriate actions. Stopping these types of officers from getting positions elsewhere also supports the millions of officers who are protecting each and every one of us every day. It allows for those officers who are following the law to not bear the weight of the misconduct of other officers but instead be viewed as partners in the community.
While the debate on how to reshape, reform and fix policing will continue, it’s urgent that we identify high risk officers and get them off the beat.
The time is now, and we should ask our elected officials to strongly support the establishment of a national police misconduct registry at the federal level.
Jamie Campbell is a fellow of CEO Action for Racial Equity and the assistant dean of Diversity Enhancement for Smeal College of Business at Pennsylvania State University.