State lawmakers creating a paper trail for "dirty cops"

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - State lawmakers take a new step trying to increase public trust in law enforcement.

Right now, state leaders say, the risk of lawsuits makes it difficult to conduct certain background checks or find out much about an officer's history.

Lawmakers want every police department in Wisconsin to know exactly who they hire.

"Really just allow for a more transparent process within law enforcement agencies to make sure bad actors are not getting hired someplace else in the state," Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) explained.

Back in April, Action 2 News told you about the state's first step in weeding out so-called "bad cops" when the Department of Justice created a database flagging any officer who'd been fired or resigned under investigation.

The DOJ alerts police departments if a candidate is on that list.

Through open records requests, Action 2 News discovered there are 114 former officers now on that list.

Thursday the Assembly's Public Safety Committee took the next step for making it easier to find out why those officers are off the force in the first place.

On a bipartisan effort, the Public Safety Committee pushed along a bill creating employment files for enforcers that would follow them through any police department. Click here for the complete text of Assembly Bill 506.

"What the bill does is try to increase public trust in law enforcement by making it more difficult for law enforcement officers who leave under questionable circumstances or were fired for misconduct to hop between jobs," Jacque said.

Jacque said the Wisconsin Department of Justice sought the changes over fear municipalities are threatened with lawsuits and retaliation if they release personnel files of former officers.

Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith frequently sees problems accessing an officer's work history.

"As it is now, there's many times we can't get all the information we want on someone because there's some kind of agreement," Chief Smith said. "Not only that, but here, if somebody calls me and asks me about a former employee, I really can't say anything."

The problem with that? Smith says it might imply an officer did something wrong even if they didn't.

"Imagine if you're on the other line calling and asking what I think about this person, and I say, 'I can't talk about him, please direct your questions to human resources,' that may make the potential employer think, 'Well, gee, maybe we'll skip on this guy.'"

Rep. Jacque expects this bill to see a vote in both houses early next year and sees no barriers in getting it to the governor's desk.

"What it does is, I think, a lot of common sense steps to make sure that somebody is not able to hide misconduct on the job in law enforcement," Jacque said.

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