Revocation of Police Officer Certification: A Viable Remedy for Police Misconduct?
Posted by Arroyoribera on September 16, 2007
[Concluding section of “Revocation of Police Officer Certification: A Viable Remedy for Police Misconduct?” by Roger L. Goldman (Professor of Law, Saint Louis University School of Law) and Steven Puro (Professor of Political Science, Saint Louis University) in the Saint Louis University Law Journal, Spring 2001.]
As law enforcement becomes more accepted as a profession regulated by the state, it is only a matter of time before all states will have the power to revoke the certificate or license of unfit officers, and those states that have weak revocation authority will strengthen it. It is ironic that this power already exists for virtually every other profession but not for police officers with the authority to arrest and use deadly force. The reasons why there has not been a public demand for state power to discipline police include: the tradition of local control of police, so that most people are unaware the state already is heavily involved in training and standards; the absence of public awareness of the kinds of incidents of police misconduct discussed in this article; the assumption that attempts to control police misconduct will hamper effective law enforcement; the belief that the problem of police misconduct is one that affects only minority and poor communities; the legislators’ fear that if they support revocation, they will be labeled “pro-criminal”; and the opposition of police unions who fear that the state will abuse the power. n235
In order for revocation to be adopted in those states that do not currently have it and strengthened in those states that do, the lead must be taken by local and state law enforcement professionals who can best make the point that revocation is necessary in order to enhance the professionalism of law enforcement. Legislators, regardless of party affiliation, who are concerned about ethical conduct by public officials, including the police, will be supportive of these efforts. Journalists who report on issues of police misconduct are the best resource for communicating the nature of the problem, particularly if they focus on officers who repeatedly abuse citizens. Citizen [*579] groups that regularly monitor police misconduct are the best sources for identifying the problem officers in communities and states.
It is clearly unrealistic to expect local police departments and municipalities to solve the problems discussed in this article, because they are often not concerned about whether an unfit officer remains in law enforcement once that officer has left the force. There is no better example than the Webster Groves, Missouri, example discussed above. n236 This was the case in which four officers were discharged or resigned for taking part in nude hot tub parties with two girls, aged sixteen and seventeen. The city reported the firing of three officers to the Missouri POST but did not report the resignation of the fourth officer. Upon being asked why the state was not alerted to the involvement of the officer that resigned, the mayor, with remarkable candor, said: “The important issue here is that the police officers accused of doing these things are not with the Webster Groves Department.” n237
No state assumes that the public interest is adequately protected by leaving the ultimate discipline of lawyers and doctors up to law firms and hospitals. Rather, state bar associations cooperate with state supreme courts to disbar unfit lawyers and state medical boards revoke the licenses of unfit doctors. Similarly, given the costs to our society of unfit police officers, the final decision of whether or not a person remains in law enforcement cannot be left up to local departments. There is at least as great a need for state POSTs to serve a function with respect to unfit police officers similar to that of state bar associations and medical boards with respect to unfit lawyers and doctors. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragic incident that results in a public outcry to get police officer revocation legislation enacted. n238 There is no excuse for the few remaining states without revocation authority to delay any longer in getting such laws enacted.