Roger L. Goldman, The Callis Family Professor of Law Emeritus, Saint Louis University School of Law, Missouri
All professions, even those with selective recruiting processes and rigorous hiring standards such as law enforcement, are required to deal with misconduct from a member of their field at some time. In the case of law enforcement officers, it’s essential to public safety and to the community’s trust in law enforcement that there are proper mechanisms in place to remove such officers from the profession so they are no longer in a position of authority over the community.
Currently, in the United States, 46 states provide for the revocation of a police officer’s license or certificate when the officer has engaged in serious misconduct.1 The process is similar to that used in many other professions that require licenses like law and medicine.2 A decertified officer is prohibited from continuing to serve in law enforcement in the state that revoked his or her certification. The state agency in charge of decertification is typically the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST).
If a decertified officer decides to go to another state to become a police officer, how will the new agency that the officer applies to find out about the decertification, assuming the officer doesn’t reveal the fact that he or she was decertified? In July 1999,the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) established a database, with funding from the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Administration (BJA), to track decertified officers across the United States.
The National Decertification Index (NDI) is a database of decertified police officers and corrections officers. Currently, POSTS in 43 of the 45 decertification-permitting states submit decertification actions to the NDI.3 As of mid-September 2018, the NDI contained almost 25,000 actions. The NDI is a pointer system—it contains no information about what the officer did to be decertified; it merely refers the person seeking information about a particular officer to the state POST that decertified him or her. POST agencies are permitted to query the NDI, as are hiring departments as long as the POST has granted access for the agency’s pre-hire screening process.
Since the grounds for decertification vary greatly among U.S. states, the fact of decertification does not mean the officer is automatically ineligible to be an officer in the state to which he or she has moved. For example, in some states, conviction of a felony is the only grounds for decertification; whereas, in other states, the commission of specified misconduct, such as filing a false police report, could trigger decertification.
The value of the NDI is illustrated by the case of Sean Sullivan, a police officer in Oregon who had been convicted of two counts of harassment and who was decertified by the Oregon POST. His name was entered into the NDI. Three months after his conviction, he applied to be an officer in both Alaska and Kansas and indicated on his applications he had never been convicted nor decertified. He was hired to be police chief in a small town in Kansas, but when the Kansas POST became aware of the Oregon decertification by checking the NDI, he was decertified in that state, as well.4
There have been efforts at the federal level to have a federally administered databank on police officers similar to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) for licensed health care professionals. The IACP supported the enactment of the Law Enforcement and Correctional Officers Employment Registration Act of 1996.5 In addition to listing the names of officers who had been decertified, it would also have established a registry listing all criminal justice agencies for which the officer had worked; however, the bill did not progress out of committee to congressional debate and a vote.6
More recently, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) partner with IADLEST “to expand its National Decertification Index to serve as the National Register of Decertified Officers with the goal of covering all agencies within the United States and its territories.”7 Although that recommendation has not been implemented, some federal agencies now both query the NDI as well as enter the name of decertified federal law enforcement officers in the database.
Contacting former employers before hiring an employee is important for any occupation or profession but even more so for law enforcement given the immense powers that police officers have over citizens. The NDI offers an additional layer of protection to a chief beyond checking with police departments for whom the applicant has worked. Querying the NDI will let the chief know whether or not the potential employee has been decertified by a state POST.
Roger L. Goldman, The Callis Family Professor of Law Emeritus at Saint Louis University School of Law, Missouri is the nation’s foremost expert on police licensing and license revocation laws as a way to address serious misconduct by law enforcement officers. His work has been cited in the national media, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, the Atlantic Magazine, and CBS Morning News. His op-eds have appeared in Newsweek and the Guardian. For more than three decades, he has helped states (including Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Hawaii) write and adopt laws that provide for removing the state license of an officer who engages in serious misconduct.
1 The four states that do not have the authority to decertify are California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Hawaii’s law was enacted in July 2018, effective in July 2019.
2 The author discusses decertification in “Police Officer Decertification: Promoting Police Professionalism through State Licensing and the National Decertification Index,” The Police Chief 81, no. 11 (November 2014): 40–42.
3 Two different North Carolina agencies submit names: The Sheriffs’ Education and Training Standards Commission and the Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission.
4 Eriks Gabliks, “Oregon Case Shows NDI Works,” IADLEST Newsletter, October 2011, 5.
5 H.R. 3263, 104th Cong. (1996); S. 484, 104th Cong. (1995).
6 Roger L. Goldman, “Revocation of Police Officer Certification: A Viable Remedy for Police Misconduct?” Saint Louis University Law Journal 45, No.2 (2001): 541, 575.
7 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (Washington, DC: COPS Office, 2015), 29.
Please cite as
Roger L. Goldman, “NDI: Tracking Interstate Movement of Decertified Police Officers,” Police Chief Online, September 12, 2018.
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