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New Background Database Unlikely To Halt Hiring Bad Police, Critics Say

A new U.S. Justice Department database intended to track the backgrounds of officers working for federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is unlikely to solve the problem of police with checkered pasts moving between departments, defense attorneys and reform advocates warn, the Guardian reports. Announced in December, the National Law Enforcement Accountability Database (NLEAD) will compile reports of misconduct by federal law enforcement officers, after legislation to create a national catalog of complaints against police at all levels of government was blocked in Congress. Information about the 136,000 officers working under various federal departments – including well-known agencies such as the Secret Service and Drug Enforcement Administration and more obscure branches such as the Mint Police – will not be available to the public, nor to the leadership of state and local police agencies.


“This is available for federal agencies, for particular people in some federal agencies that are doing hiring. So, what does that mean if you were the sheriff or the police chief in X city or town? Would not there be the same interest in knowing that this officer you’re about to hire has a deeply problematic history?” said Jumana Musa of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Fourth Amendment Center. The nation's more than 17,500 state and local police agencies employ about 788,000 officers, but no comprehensive database exists of their employment records, despite concerns over “wandering officers”, or police who bounce from department to department after resigning or being terminated due to misconduct. A 2020 study from the Duke University School of Law and University of Chicago Law School found that police in Florida who were previously fired are more likely to be terminated or receive complaints over their “moral character” in the future. Officers with poor disciplinary records have been involved in high-profile killings, such as the 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. During his brief time on a small Ohio force, Timothy Loehmann, who killed Rice after joining Cleveland’s police department, was judged by superiors as unfit for the job. Years after the shooting, Loehmann was briefly hired as a small Pennsylvania town’s sole officer, before quitting amid a public outcry.

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