Push for paper trail: Lawmaker wants officers’ ‘bad behavior’ on record

Posted at 5:59 PM, Jan 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-25 17:59:21-05

LANSING, Mich. — "Bad officers" hopping from department to department need to be stopped, says a Republican state senator and former county sheriff who is pushing legislation that would require a paper trail to follow a police officer to a new job in law enforcement to show why they left their prior post.

“We have to make sure that if they’re going to go on, and continue their career in law enforcement that the next department knows exactly who they’re hiring," said Jones, R-Grand Ledge, a retired sheriff with Eaton County who served more than 30 years in law enforcement.

"This should not be happening.”

>> READ: Senate bill 053 here.

Jones said cases involving officers resigning from a job—usually to preclude being fired—and then quickly finding a new job within a different department are both numerous and well documented.

Jones' proposal, which was first introduced last session but died in lame duck, mandates that a department must keep all records and reasons for an officer resigning on file. The bill also protects law enforcement agencies from lawsuits for sharing the information with an officer's prospective employer.

“A lot of departments are very nervous about saying exactly why somebody resigned, they don’t want to be sued," he said.

A 2014 case that was captured on film and later published by the Lansing City Pulse involving an Eaton County sheriff's deputy who made a "violent, abusive arrest that wasn't necessary" is what prompted a closer look at the issue, Jones told FOX 17.

The deputy, Greg Brown, was never charged and quietly resigned. He was immediately hired by the Lenawee County Sheriff's Department, where he is now accused of assaulting two other individuals, according to Jones.

Both the Michigan Fraternal Order of Police and Police Officers Association of Michigan declined on-camera interview requests but representatives for both police unions acknowledged the sentiment behind the legislation.

“We're always concerned with transparency, so that’s not an issue," said Dave Hiller, executive director with the Michigan Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). "Our concern is whether an officer’s rights are protected.”

Hiller said it was too early to take a position on the proposal but added he would hope the any change would provide an avenue for an officer to review or appeal a decision made by an employer.

Ken Grabowski, the legislative director for the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) shared similar concerns over privacy.

“We understand what [Jones] is trying to do and we’ll be taking a look to see where it goes," Grabowski told FOX 17. "But being a policeman has become a very unattractive occupation and we’re not getting the best and the brightest like we used to.”

Other police union sources contend that while the current system is far from flawless, is allows departments to strike deals to get so-called "bad apples" out and avoid costly litigation.

If passed, an officer's personnel file would not become public record by default. Under current state law, police disciplinary records are frequently withheld under Michigan's Freedom of Information Actexemption against any "unwarranted invasion of privacy" barring an overriding public interest. Michigan remains one of about a dozen states where "only records of severe discipline, like a suspension or termination, are public while the rest is confidential," according to data compiled by WNYC public radio.

Beyond compromising to allow a letter to be placed on a file for an officer to provide an explanation of resignation if he or she doesn't agree with reasons for being let go, Jones said he does not foresee making any other changes to quell concerns.

"We can’t have bad officers protected by the union, and I respect the FOP and the POAM and all the unions," Jones said. "But I don’t think a good union out there wants to go on record backing a bad cop.”

Beyond changes proposed by Jones, recently passed legislation requires licensed officers to inform the state commission if they are charged with certain crimes or become subject to a personal protection order. Prior to the changes, officers convicted of any crime less than a felony were not automatically subject to have their certifications revoked.

Jones' bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.