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Sheriff wants improved officer registry

Mike Genet

Amid various rallying cries in Kansas City and around the country for police reform, Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forte says he wants to push for a better statewide police misconduct registry.

While a system to report cases of officer misconduct and dismissal already exists, Forte said it needs improvement, and some area police chiefs say they’re not opposed to reviewing that process.

Such a statewide registry, as Forte posted on social media earlier this week, would “identify officers who are terminated for misconduct or abuse of power.”

“They should be prohibited from transferring to other agencies,” he posted. “This is a small step in the community trust-building process. Reporting is not consistent. The community is asking for increased accountability, so we must improve.”

Forte said he’s discussed a possible proposal with an area state lawmaker but declined to specify whom.

The current reporting and registry system, he says, “has no teeth.” Between the time investigations can take, whether or not agencies fully report and what information an agency can glean from an officer’s former place of employment, too many officers with misconduct cases on their record fall through cracks, he’s said.

Missouri’s Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST) Program, part of the Department of Public Safety, oversees and investigates wrongdoing among licensed police officers, but that’s reliant on full reports from agencies. A national decertification index, maintained by the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, is supposed to serve as a national registry, but the group’s website says it contains reports from just 45 law enforcement agencies.

“We need a different system,” Forte said. “There’s nothing that makes us follow it other than our ethics.”

In his time as Kansas City police chief for several years and then as sheriff since 2018, Forte said he’s seen several instances in which an officer with possible misconduct moved to a different agency that, with more information, might not have hired them.

“Some law enforcement agencies, all they will tell us is when they were hired and when they leave,” he said. “If they have a rogue officer and that officer leaves, they might not report everything.

“If they don’t report it to POST, nobody can get it, and he can bounce around.”

Forte said he currently has a situation of possible assault involving a deputy and the incident is on camera, and by the time he became aware the deputy had put in two weeks’ notice. By the time the sheriff’s professional standards unit investigates and Forte can report to POST, giving the deputy his due process, he could have another job before the case is in the state system.

“I don’t necessarily disagree with the sheriff,” Blue Springs Chief of Police Bob Muenz said. “I think we can do better as a profession across the state to report such terminations, and disciplinary actions, to POST.”

Muenz said his department reports to POST every time an officer leaves, regardless of resignation, retirement or termination, and they do a thorough background check of any prospective hire, especially past employment with other law enforcement agencies.

“I am not sure we need to create a new system,” the chief said, “but maybe we can improve how the POST commission tracks, reviews and shares this information in a timelier fashion.”

“It would also be beneficial to review how long it takes for the POST commission to review disciplinary measures a department takes against an officer when determining if they will suspend, terminate, or place on a probationary period an officer’s license.”

Lee’s Summit Chief of Police Travis Forbes said he supports any effort to assure law enforcement professionalism, “including assuring any officer unfit for duty is not considered for employment by any department.”

Accurate reporting to the POST Commission, and then the commission reporting to the national decertification index, is certainly important, Forbes said in a statement, and he would welcome any review to find possible improvements or other necessary measures “to help assure the hiring of ethical officers.”