In Michigan, when officers resign because of misconduct, police departments across state will know

January 22, 2018

Starting this year, Michigan law enforcement agencies must keep track of the reason for, and the circumstances surrounding, a law enforcement officer’s resignation. The result of state legislation passed in 2017 (SB 223), this new requirement aims to prevent officers who resign due to accusations of misconduct from being hired by another department unknowingly.

“Many times, police departments don’t want to risk a lawsuit by giving out a bad report on a former employee; other times, there’s a deal cut between the officer and the police chief or sheriff,” says Sen. Rick Jones, the sponsor of SB 223, who is a former sheriff with 31 years of experience in law enforcement.

Such a deal, he adds, would allow an officer to resign in lieu of termination, which allows him or her to remain certified and to have a clean employment record when pursuing another job in law enforcement.

What caught Jones’ attention was a case involving a sheriff’s deputy that made local headlines in 2016:
While working for Eaton County, the deputy had been caught using excessive force during a traffic stop, but was allowed to resign rather than be terminated. This officer was subsequently hired by another county, only to be accused of using excessive force on two separate occasions in that jurisdiction.

“When I saw this local case, I asked myself, ‘How can we allow this to constantly go on?’” Jones says.

Under the new Michigan statute, law enforcement agencies must create a separation-of-service record when an officer resigns. And before hiring an officer previously employed in law enforcement, these agencies must obtain the individual’s service record.

SB 223 gives agencies immunity from civil liability related to the disclosure of information, and officers have the opportunity to review and dispute the contents of their separation-of-service records.

Last year, the Wisconsin Department of Justice began requiring state and local law enforcement agencies to report when officers resign amid an internal investigation, quit in lieu of termination, or are fired for cause. In Iowa, law enforcement agencies must notify the state’s police certification board when officers resign and note if a “substantial likelihood” exists that the reason for the resignation would result in the revocation or suspension of an officer’s license.

Under legislation introduced but not passed in Minnesota last year (HF 2561), law enforcement agencies would have been required to report annually the name and license number of any peace officer who resigned in lieu of termination as the result of misconduct. The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training would have then created a database with these disciplinary reports, including a summary of the circumstances surrounding the resignation.