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The problem with policing: Stop hiring, rehiring people who are not good at the job

Laura Finley
police car
(© Oleksandr – stock.adobe.com)

General advice given to young people is to do their work well, lest they be fired from their job. Being fired holds a negative stigma and of course, for most people, can affect the likelihood of future employment, especially in the same industry.

Yet this does not hold true for police officers, it seems. Time and again we see police officers engage in misconduct of all sorts yet remain on the force. Even officers who have lost their jobs are often reinstated due to powerful police unions that negotiate pro-cop contracts.

Worse yet, officers who have lost their jobs have been hired by other police agencies as if they did nothing wrong. Most recently, Louisville, Kentucky Officer Miles Cosgrove, who was fired in 2021 for the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, was hired by a neighboring county. Cosgrove fired 16 rounds after officers entered Taylor’s apartment for a narcotics raid on March 13, 2020. Her boyfriend, not knowing they were officers, fired back with his lawful firearm and officers returned the fire, killing Taylor in the hallway.

Neither Cosgrove or the other officer whose bullet struck Taylor were charged. Because, sure this makes sense–killing someone and failing to utilize the required body camera during a raid on her apartment should definitely guarantee one future employment as an officer. Ugh. But that is exactly what the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council voted in November 2022 to reinstate Cosgrove’s license.

The problem of officers remaining on the job or being rehired after engaging in terrible work-related misconduct is remarkably common. In August 2021, Wisconsin Public Radio reported that some 200 officers who had been fired or resigned amidst misconduct investigations were still in the state’s employ.

This is seemingly terrible decision-making on the part of the hiring agency, as studies, including one published in the Yale Law Journal found that cops who were fired previously are more likely to be fired again or to receive complaints of “moral character violations.” In another example, Timothy Loehmann, the officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland in 2014, had previously resigned from a suburban police force before being fired for numerous issues. The Cleveland Police Department evidently did not check his personnel file.

Eddie Boyd III resigned from his job as an officer in St. Louis, Missouri after he pistol-whipped a 12-year-old girl in the face, then a year later hit another child in the face with either his gun or handcuffs and then falsified the report. No worries, Boyd was soon hired by a police department in St. Ann, Missouri before moving on to—wait for it—Ferguson, Missouri.

Never to be outdone, Florida’s German Bosque, often called “Florida’s Worst Cop,” was fired for various misconduct than re-hired seven times. The last time Bosque was caught on body camera coaching a subordinate how to conceal the truth about a crime scene. Other allegations were for excessive use of force, misuse of police firearms, and stealing from suspects.

How is this possible?

First, there is no national database of officers who have been fired or who resign during misconduct cases, although it is clear in the case of Cosgrove that Robert Miller, chief deputy in Carroll County, was well aware of the officer’s past when he hired the man.

In other cases, perhaps the hiring agency did a poor job of conducting a background check, however absurd that sounds when hiring for a position that involves the use of lethal force.

Additionally, as Ben Grunwald, a Duke University law school professor noted, sometimes hiring agencies actually want someone with a “cowboy cop” reputation. For example, in 2020 in Brevard County, Florida there was an even advertisement seeking to hire rogue officers, with the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of the Police posting on Facebook specifically to the “Buffalo 57” and “Atlanta 6” that it was hiring. The Buffalo 57 were 57 officers who resigned following the suspension of two of their colleagues for pushing a 75-year-old protestor to the ground and the Atlanta 6 who were booked on felony charges for assaulting two college students who were Black Lives Matter protesters.

It is no wonder that community trust in police has been declining for years. A Post-ABC poll found in early 2023 that only 39 percent of those surveyed were confident that police are adequately trained to avoid using excessive force, the lowest level since polling of its sort began in 2014.

Likewise, a 2022 Gallup poll found only 45 percent of surveyed Americans were generally confident in police, even lower than in the aftermath of the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

While there is much to be done to address the many problems with policing in the US, the fix here seems quite simple: Stop hiring and rehiring people who are not good at their jobs.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is the author of several academic texts in her discipline.