The U.S. Justice Department has created a database to track records of misconduct by federal law enforcement officers that is aimed at preventing agencies from unknowingly hiring problem officers, officials said on Monday.
The federal move is a step toward accountability amid growing calls to close loopholes that allow law enforcement officers to be rehired by other agencies after losing their jobs or resigning after misconduct allegations. The creation of the database was part of President Joe Biden’s May 2022 executive order on policing, which included dozens of measures aimed at increasing accountability for federal law enforcement officers.
“This database will ensure that records of serious misconduct by federal law enforcement officers are readily available to agencies considering hiring those officers,” Biden said in a statement.
The database, which will only contain records for federal officers and not be open to the public, falls short of the national misconduct database called for by some police reform advocates.
The National Law Enforcement Accountability Database currently includes only former and current Justice Department officers who have records of serious misconduct over the last seven years. It will be expanded in the next two months to capture other federal law enforcement agencies such as the Secret Service and United States Park Police, a Justice Department official said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said it will give federal agencies “an important new tool for vetting and hiring officers and agents that will help strengthen our efforts” to build and retain the public’s trust.
“No law enforcement agency — including the Justice Department — can effectively do its work without the trust of the public,” Garland said in an emailed statement.
Federal agencies will be responsible for reporting and updating records for officers who faced criminal convictions, civil judgments, terminations, suspensions, resigning or retiring while under investigation and sustained complaints or disciplinary actions for serious misconduct, officials said. Serious misconduct includes excessive force, obstruction of justice, findings of bias or discrimination, making a false report, making a false statement under oath, theft and sexual misconduct.
The database is currently only accessible by Justice Department employees and will eventually be expanded to allow access by users in other federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies, a Justice Department official said. The Bureau of Justice Statistics will produce an annual public report on the database, but the report will not include individual incident data and will be anonymized to protect the privacy of officers, officials said.
Leaders at Color of Change, a national racial justice organization, acknowledged the creation of the federal database is encouraging, but said it is only one of many steps needed for broader police reform.
“For this initiative to reach communities that feel the most impact of police violence, this database needs to include local and state police departments,” Kyle Bibby, chief of campaigns and programs, said in a statement. “As we call for local and state jurisdictions to adopt this federal framework, one of the most consistent opposition forces will continue to be local police unions.”
The majority of police interactions happen at the state and local level, but policing is decentralized with states and departments largely responsible for determining training standards and disciplinary decisions.
The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training has created a national repository for officer decertification that boasts more than 53,000 records from 49 state agencies. However, providing the records and using the records is voluntary and the database does not include any other disciplinary measures such as firings or suspensions.
The federal government is trying to encourage more states and local agencies to participate in the National Decertification Index by giving priority consideration when handing out grants to law enforcement agencies that use that database as part of their employment vetting process, officials said.
Reform advocates have issued calls for a national system to track officer misconduct in part to address officers who are fired or resign and who then jump to other police departments sometimes in different states often because a full accounting of alleged misconduct records isn’t available.
There have been a handful of recent examples of officers fired for high-profile police misconduct at local departments including fatal shootings who were then hired by police departments in different states or, in some cases, the same state.
Myles Cosgrove, the former Louisville Metro Police Department officer who was fired in January 2021 for violating use-of-force procedures and failing to use a body camera during the fatal raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment, was hired earlier this year by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department in Kentucky.
In 2022, Timothy Loehmann, the former Cleveland police officer who was fired after the fatal 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, was hired by a small Pennsylvania town to be its only police officer. He resigned from the job amid public outrage.
Richer reported from Boston, and Lauer from Philadelphia. Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.