There is a big problem across the U.S., and here in New Mexico, regarding what are called “Gypsy Cops,” that is, officers who have been fired from police departments for bad behavior, or who have lost their law enforcement certifications, but who wind up getting hired by other police agencies that aren't aware of their backgrounds.
There is a tool – a free national database of officers whose licenses have been revoked – that the more than 100 police agencies in New Mexico can access to ensure they don't hire decertified cops. But, only 15 police agencies in the state have signed onto the list.
The database is operated by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST), and it contains the names of 23,387 police officers who have been decertified in 43 states. Included are the names of 95 officers from New Mexico whose license have been revoked, and of five officers who have voluntarily surrendered their licenses.
The database is free and easily accessible to any law enforcement agency or company that hires cops for police departments. The database is not open to the public. To access the database, police agencies need to go to the IADLEST website and click on the “National Decertification Index” on the left-hand side of the web page. That will lead to a sign-up page.
IADLEST Executive Director Michael Becar said the nonprofit agency doesn't have the money to advertise and get out the word about its database, so, it has to rely on referrals and word-of-mouth.
“It's [the database] available at no cost, all they have to do is request access,” Becar said, adding that the database has existed since 1998.
The index contains the names of and birth dates of decertified officers, but no actual records from the police departments. Any police department that searches the database and gets a hit on a name should contact the officer's police department to get more details, Becar said.
Again, of the more than 100 police agencies in New Mexico, only 15 have signed onto the IADLEST database. They include the Valencia, Sandoval and San Juan County Sheriff's departments, and police departments in Farmington and Artesia.
The Albuquerque Police Department isn't signed onto the database.
New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said he would like to get out the word about the IADLEST database to all of the state's police agencies. He added, though, that around two years ago, the former director of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy, Jack Jones, stopped updating the IADLEST database about decertified officers in the state. Kassetas said the current director is in the process of updating the database with current information from New Mexico.
And, on Dec. 12, Kassetas pushed the NMLEA board to make its decisions about decertifying officers more accessible to the public.
Here's the video of Kasseas' testimony:
(Video by Charles Arasim)
Kassetas asked the NMLEA's director to see if and when the academy could put records on officer discipline into a searchable database that the public could access on the academy's website.
Kassetas said that such records are only available through an Inspection of Public Records request to the state's Department of Public Safety. And those requests take a long time - sometimes up to 15 days - to fulfill, Kassetas added.
Many other states post the results of their decertification and disciplinary decisions against police officers, and that information is easily accessible by the public.
Becar said he hopes more New Mexico police agencies will sign up for IADLEST's database.
"It's another tool that any investigator should have in their tool belt when they are hiring police officers," Becar said.