DC Metro PD's Powerful Review Panel Keeps Giving Bad Cops Their Jobs Back
from the ensuring-a-broken-system-remains-broken dept
After bad cops do bad things, other cops will rush to the defense of the agency employing them, claiming most cops are good and these officers are outliers. These assertions might be more believable if law enforcement agencies (and their unions) didn’t regularly cover for bad officers or, in the case of police unions, work tirelessly to ensure bad cops get their jobs back.
Everything works in favor of bad cops. Their union reps can force agencies to rehire them. Fellow officers look the other way or falsify reports to cover for their actions. Oversight boards are neutered, ignored, and obstructed. Police officials with the power to rid agencies of bad officers either refuse to do so or are powerless in the face of restrictive union contracts.
If there’s an upside to all of this right now, it’s that transparency has been forced on several law enforcement agencies over the past few years, making it easier to obtain misconduct records. Agencies no longer have the opacity to engage in repeated denials of severe misconduct by officers. And they can no longer claim they truly care about ensuring only the best officers remain employed.
And there are other, non-official sources for this data. Entities like DDoS (Distributed Denial of Secrets) have exfiltrated files from law enforcement servers, resulting in revelations law enforcement agencies weren’t willing to make.
Disciplinary files freed by a ransomware hack were converted to searchable documents and examined by The Reveal and DCist. The documents show how much the Washington, DC police department has done to ensure some of its worst officers stayed on the payroll. Criminal misconduct by law enforcement officers apparently isn’t worth a firing, not when DC police officials have the final say on discipline.
Internal records show that MPD’s Disciplinary Review Division sought to terminate at least 24 officers currently on the force for criminal misconduct from 2009 to 2019. In all but three of those cases, the records show, the Adverse Action Panel blocked the termination and instead issued much lighter punishment – an average of a 29-day suspension without pay. These officers amassed disciplinary records for domestic violence, DUIs, indecent exposure, sexual solicitation, stalking and more. In several instances, they fled the scenes of their crimes.
It was more than these 24 bad apples escaping termination. Other officers engaging in criminal activity or policy violations supposedly worthy of termination kept their jobs, too.
The department did not seek to terminate the other 40 officers, more than half of whom the Internal Affairs Division believed had been driving either drunk or recklessly. Other criminal conduct the department did not try to fire current officers for included recklessly handling a firearm, harassment, property damage, stalking and theft.
These were all sustained complaints. The PD had arrived at the conclusion officers had violated laws and yet still decided none of it was worth being fired for. The end result is an implicit blessing of criminal behavior — one that assures officers no matter how severe the misconduct, they’ll still have a job.
It also exacerbates existing, long-running problems within law enforcement. The records show seven officers committed domestic assault, but all were able to retain their positions. Studies have shown law enforcement has a domestic abuse problem. Data and anecdotal information has shown law enforcement in general does not care if it has a domestic abuse problem. One officer retained his job despite repeatedly assaulting his wife, who told her pastor she felt the officer would “try to kill her” if she caused problems for him at work. Another allegedly ran over his wife — something apparently confirmed by hospital reports detailing tire marks on her foot, ankle, and calf. After a three-week vacation, Officer DeVon Goldring was back at work.
Violence against spouses and women is just part of the cop game in DC:
Other personnel files show that an internal investigation concluded that Officer Steven Ferris was arrested for simple assault in 2012 after Internal Affairs reported he confessed that he punched his wife so hard that he fractured a bone around her eye socket. Another officer, Jonathan Goodman, allegedly hit two women at a restaurant in 2010; when one of them said she was calling the cops, he pulled out his badge and replied, “Bitch, I am the police,” according to the files.
The discipline system in the DC Metro Police Department is severely dysfunctional. The PD may want officers fired but the internal Adverse Action Panel has final say. It is staffed by a rotating group of police officials whose views, one would assume, would be aligned with their employer. But these officials — when sitting in these positions — tend to view fireable offenses as mild disciplinary problems worth little more than a suspension. This internal friction has been a problem for years. Documents obtained from a former director of the department’s Disciplinary Review Division show two-thirds of all fired officers were reinstated by the Adverse Action Panel.
Crimes that would put regular people in jail aren’t enough to keep a Metro PD officer from staying employed. The refusal to fire officers over criminal activity and severe misconduct tells bad cops they’re pretty much guaranteed employment no matter what they do. It tells aspiring bad cops there’s little to fear in terms of reprisal. And it tells the actual good cops there’s no reason to blow the whistle on bad officers, since the only thing it will result in is retaliation.