But a lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies, opposition from police executives and unions, and an absence of federal guidance have meant that in many cases police departments do not know the background of prospective officers if they fail to disclose a troubled work history.
Where police departments go wrong: Hiring troubled officers without doing a reference check
Timothy Williams provides information that provides some insight in recurring problems in law enforcement in the US:
As a police officer in a small Oregon town in 2004, Sean Sullivan was caught kissing a 10-year-old girl on the mouth.
Mr. Sullivan’s sentence barred him from taking another job as a police officer.
But three months later, in August 2005, Mr. Sullivan was hired, after a cursory check, not just as a police officer on another force but as the police chief. As the head of the department in Cedar Vale, Kan., according to court records and law enforcement officials, he was again investigated for a suspected sexual relationship with a girl and eventually convicted on charges that included burglary and criminal conspiracy.
“It was very irritating because he should never have been a police officer,” said Larry Markle, the prosecutor for Montgomery and Chautauqua counties in Kansas.
Mr. Sullivan, 44, is now in prison in Washington State on other charges, including identity theft and possession of methamphetamine. It is unclear how far-reaching such problems may be, but 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.
Yet there is no comprehensive, national system for weeding out problem officers. If there were, such hires would not happen, criminologists and law enforcement officials say.
Officers, sometimes hired with only the most perfunctory of background examinations — as Kansas officials said was the case with Mr. Sullivan — and frequently without even having their fingerprints checked, often end up in new trouble, according to a review of court documents, personnel records and interviews with former colleagues and other law enforcement officials.
As fatal police shootings of unarmed African-American men and sometimes violent protests have roiled the nation, the question of how best to remove the worst police officers has been at the core of reform attempts.
Among the officers, sometimes called “gypsy cops,” who have found jobs even after exhibiting signs that they might be ill suited for police work is Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014.
Before he was hired in Cleveland, Officer Loehmann had resigned from a suburban police force not long after a supervisor recommended that he be fired for, among other things, an inability to follow instructions. But Cleveland officials never checked his personnel file.
Officer Loehmann, who was not indicted, remains on the Cleveland force. He is on desk duty pending the result of an administrative review, Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia, a police spokeswoman, said.
While serving as a St. Louis officer, Eddie Boyd III pistol-whipped a 12-year-old girl in the face in 2006, and in 2007 struck a child in the face with his gun or handcuffs before falsifying a police report, according to MissouriDepartment of Public Safety records.
Though Officer Boyd subsequently resigned, he was soon hired by the police department in nearby St. Ann, Mo., before he found a job with the troubled force in Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American, was fatally shot by a white officer in 2014.
Officer Boyd is being sued by a woman in Ferguson who said he arrested her after she asked for his name at the scene of a traffic accident. He declined an interview request.
The Ferguson police declined to comment about him, but said in a statement that their applicants “undergo extensive investigation before final hiring decisions are made, which includes, but is not limited to, a psychological examination, investigation of an applicant’s prior work history, consultation with applicant’s previous employers and a criminal background check.”
Across the state, the Kansas City police fired Kevin Schnell in 2008 for failing to get medical aid for a pregnant woman after arresting her during a traffic stop. The baby was delivered, but died a few hours later.
Officer Schnell has since been hired by two other Missouri police departments, including his current employer in Independence. Officer Schnell and the Independence police declined to comment. . .