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Missouri police leaders push to curb 'muni shuffle' that lets disgraced officers change departments

Missouri police leaders push to curb 'muni shuffle' that lets disgraced officers change departments

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ST. LOUIS — Missouri police leaders are pushing for changes aimed at curbing the number of times that disgraced police officers are rehired by new departments after serious misconduct or repeated firings.

The phenomenon, often known in St. Louis law enforcement circles as the “muni shuffle,” has been an issue in the region for decades and was the subject of Post-Dispatch stories in 2003 and in July.

On Tuesday, the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, which oversees the state agency charged with police licensing and discipline, voted to approve several recommendations aimed at preventing the shuffle of problem officers.

The board, made up of law enforcement officials from around the state, recommended that all licensed officers in Missouri be required to enroll in RAP Back, an FBI program that would send each department notifications if the officer is arrested anywhere in the country once his or her fingerprints are on file.

The program is now commonly used for teachers and other professions, but more than 15,000 officers in Missouri are not enrolled, according to members of the commission.

The board also recommended requirements for more extensive background checks for officers.

Under the recommendations, all candidates would be required to sign a waiver to legally allow departments to do thorough background checks — a practice that is optional today.

Then, before a hire is made, heads of law enforcement agencies would be required to get the candidate’s full employment file from the police standards commission, which includes past state discipline records and reasons for departures from past departments. The head of the department or a designee would then need to sign a form stating that they reviewed the background file before the hire.

For departments with fewer than 25 officers or that serve a population fewer than 15,000 residents, another member of city leadership, such as a mayor or city administrator, would also be required to sign the form. More than 450 of the state’s 620 law enforcement agencies fit that criteria.

That extra step is included because small departments tend to be more willing to hire officers who have prior misconduct, as those officers are often willing to accept lower wages, said Jefferson County Sheriff Dave Marshak.

Marshak, one of several commissioners who created the recommendations, added that he’s noticed that his own former officers who were fired for misconduct or who resigned during an investigation have been hired by small, nearby departments without a background check.

“These departments may not have the resources or have trouble finding officers,” he said. “But I think the public has a right to expect a thorough background check. There needs to be some accountability.”

The commission on Tuesday also supported automatically denying peace officer licenses to any officer in Missouri whose license was revoked in another state.

Sandy Karsten, director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, which includes the police standards commission, said she would begin a review to see which of the changes could be made administratively and which would require the department to lobby state legislators for changes in law.

Marshak said he is optimistic that there is support for the changes among law enforcement groups and legislators because the commission focused on changes that do not require additional funding.

Still, Marshak believes more changes are likely needed to control the “muni shuffle.”

The police standards commission, for instance, employs only two investigators who probe reports of police misconduct for possible licensure discipline. In recent weeks, they’ve had a combined caseload of more than 180, Marshak said.

Marshak said Tuesday he thinks the recommendations would be a start in addressing the longtime problem.

“There’s the old saying: No one hates a bad cop more than a good cop,” he said. “And I think that really applies to this.”

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