Terrific reporting by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Thousands of Florida officers remain on the job despite arrests or evidence implicating them in crimes that could have landed them in prison, a Herald-Tribune investigation has found.
Even those officers with multiple offenses have been given chance after chance through a disciplinary system that has been reshaped in their favor by the state’s politically influential police unions. As a result, officers around Florida carry personnel files that are anything but heroic.
Corrections officer Kurt Stout, already dogged by allegations he groped and had sex with prisoners, was arrested on allegations he raped two teenage girls. Nick Viaggio capped a string of violent outbursts at the Ocala Police Department by attacking his girlfriend in a crowded nightclub until bouncers dragged him away. Palm Beach County deputy Craig Knowles-Hiller, under investigation for sleeping with a 14-year old, had to explain why the girl’s DNA was found on one of his sex toys.
In each case, state law enforcement officials let the men keep their badges….
Among the Herald-Tribune’s findings:
•One in 20 active law enforcement officers in Florida has committed a moral character violation serious enough to jeopardize his or her career. Nearly 600 have two or more such acts of misconduct on their record and 30 current officers and prison guards continue to wear a badge despite four or more offenses.
•The number of officers with serious violations is much higher than state records show. State law calls for every moral character violation to be reviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But local agencies fail to report cases and have faced no consequences for doing so. The Union County Sheriff’s Office has not reported a case of misconduct in 26 years.
It just gets worse from there. The whole series is pretty amazing. Perhaps not terribly surprising if you read this site regularly. But the depth and breadth of the problem in Florida is eye-opening. Over and over, the paper found that even when a department wanted to fire an officer (and they didn’t want to often enough), some clause from the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the police union put the cop back on the job.
Again, lots of praise to the Herald-Tribune for taking this on. The relatively small paper not only plowed through thousands of pages of personnel files, they also put them online. The report also emphasizes how important it is that the public have access to police personnel files. In jurisdictions where personnel files are considered private, this kind of investigation wouldn’t be possible. As this and countless investigations like it show, we simply can’t allow government agencies to police themselves, especially without transparency. And because of the powers we give to cops and prosecutors, it’s particularly important when it comes to law enforcement agencies.