State creates database to flag "dirty cops" job-hopping

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - The Wisconsin Department of Justice is making a new effort to improve public trust in law enforcement by trying to prevent potential "dirty cops" from job-hopping.

DOJ says it's a real problem, so it's trying to close loopholes in the system.

And law enforcement say they owe it to the public to do it.

When former-Officer Kevin Vanden Huevel was investigated and eventually convicted for misconduct in office for stealing from the DARE Program, the Brown County Sheriff's Office had to work hard to restore public trust, and quickly saw how critical that is in the community.

"That was disheartening. I mean, that was a disappointment to the community, but it was a disappointment internally as well, so we want to avoid that at all costs with potential hires and future servants to the agency," says Captain Jody Lemmens with the Brown County Sheriff's Office.

The Department of Justice is rolling out a new system this year to better alert police departments if an officer with a questionable past tries flying under the radar to get a job in a new community.

"I can see how some smaller agencies, who maybe don't have the resources to put forward into all of the background checks, that this has become exceptionally helpful to them," says Lemmens. "It hasn't really changed a whole lot about the way we do things, but it is another level of alert to making sure we're hiring quality candidates who we can trust."

DOJ is now requiring agencies to report when an officer is fired, resigns instead of being fired or resigns under investigation.

Then, if that officer applies to another agency in Wisconsin, their name is flagged and DOJ alerts that new police department.

It won't reveal details, but instead tell that new agency to contact the former one.

"It happens infrequently, because, as a profession, we have outstanding men and women who are serving our communities," says Brian O'Keefe, administrator for Wisconsin's Division of Criminal Investigation. "We don't want to have any gaps whatsoever and it does happen enough that law enforcement in the state was asking for a better system to ensure they weren't getting somebody jumping from agency to agency."

The system is designed to close loopholes like cases where officers worked out non-disclosure agreements. In those cases, they'd agree to leave their job but their police department could not tell future agencies what happened.

Or, in many other instances, a hiring agency wasn't allowed to see an officer's old personnel files.

The DOJ is trying to write legislation to give agencies access to those files, without civil or criminal liability.

It believes this database is a big step in maintaining a credible police force.

DOJ says there are about 60 officers flagged in this new system.

"We don't want them in our profession, and we don't look at it as a good person that's gone bad. We look at it as a bad guy who got one of our badges. We want it back," says O'Keefe.

"There's just no room in law enforcement for dishonest people. Our reputation is founded on that, so we need to make sure that we're hiring good, ethically sound individuals with high integrity," adds Lemmens.

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