Can National Tracking of Sustained Police Misconduct Increase Professionalism?

– Executive Summary

With the recent push at the national level to transform policing in the United States, this research sought to determine how other professions track the misconduct of their members and how those efforts might be implemented in policy to improve law enforcement professionalism. This project, which involved reviewing how law enforcement currently tracks officers’ certification, found the issuance and tracking of law enforcement officer certification are fragmented or nonexistent in parts of the country. This lack of standardization in tracking is problematic for agencies needing to understand the work history of seasoned officers they wish to bring into their ranks. Research was conducted on the licensing structures of the teaching and medical professions and how each tracks misconduct to expel bad actors from among their ranks.

Collecting officer misconduct information could be challenging for individual agencies. For example, an agency may lack one or all of the following components: a system for tracking such information, a policy that would require documenting disciplinary actions associated with misconduct, and state oversight from a Police Officer Standards and Training (POST)–type entity. Thus, each state needs a certification-issuing agency like POST and a policy that requires it to report sustained officer misconduct, and the agency must be able to revoke an officer’s certification based on sustained misconduct.

Specifically, this thesis examined the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification database, used for licensing teachers, and the National Practitioners Databank, used for licensing medical professionals, to glean how each of these professions tracks and shares misconduct information about its membership. Ultimately, this project found that how these professions track misconduct within their ranks could be implemented at the national level by law enforcement. Ideally, law enforcement leaders would work together to create a hybrid approach by taking aspects of each system researched—self-sustaining funding through subscription fees for queries, self-query capabilities, inclusion of lawsuits associated with officers, defined misconduct categories that span different jurisdictions, and consolidated misconduct data—with the goal of standardizing the tracking of officers’ sustained misconduct.

Currently, states may contribute law enforcement decertification information to a nationally accessible database, but the federal government, through executive order, intends to expand the scope of what is tracked. The National Decertification Index (NDI) tracks decertification information from POST agencies, and law enforcement agencies can query it for hiring purposes. The NDI houses decertification records from POST agencies representing 44 states that voluntarily contribute this information.[1] Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has signed an executive order directing the attorney general of the United States “to establish a National Law Enforcement Accountability database.”[2] This database will house misconduct events, including “convictions, terminations, decertifications, civil judgments, resignations, and retirements while under investigation for serious misconduct.”[3] While President Biden’s executive order allows local law enforcement agencies to use this database, it stops short of mandating its use for agencies outside the federal government. Although this executive order advances transparency, local, not federal, law enforcement incurs most of the criticism or scrutiny for misconduct during routine police calls. Discussing police misconduct and the corresponding disciplinary actions of agencies can be uncomfortable for those in law enforcement. However, it is well documented that law enforcement can do better in policing its members. The profession of policing either can decide how to optimize transparency or may find that another entity, such as Congress, tells it how it will change. There is a saying that no one hates a bad cop more than a good cop. The good cops must find ways to eliminate problem officers from the ranks. Change is definitely upon the profession of law enforcement, and it is time for law enforcement to find ways to track and make sustained police misconduct information accessible to other agencies as widely as possible to keep bad cops from simply leaving one jurisdiction to work for another.

[1] “About NDI,” International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, accessed February 28, 2023,

[2] “Fact Sheet: President Biden to Sign Historic Executive Order to Advance Effective, Accountable Policing and Strengthen Public Safety,” White House, May 25, 2022, para. 4, https://www.‌whitehouse.‌gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/05/25/fact-sheet-president-biden-to-sign-historic-executive-order-to-advance-effective-accountable-policing-and-strengthen-public-safety/.

[3] White House.

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