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Bill seeks to reduce police liability – increase hiring transparency

a police squad car
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Legislation meant to improve law enforcement hiring practices made it through the state Senate Thursday.

Right now human resource units in police departments are reluctant to tell other departments anything about a former officer besides their name and when they worked for them out of fear of litigation if the officer doesn’t get the job.

Senator Jones says the legislation is meant to prevent bad officers from hopping from department to department. Jones said, “99.9 percent of all officers are the finest people in the world. But once in a while you get a bad apple.”

The unanimously passed legislation would require departments to keep employee records and make them available to other departments considering hiring an officer. It would also make departments handing over the records immune from civil litigation.

Bob Stevenson is the executive director for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. He said their department has not taken a stance on this specific bill, but they favor the policy generally.

“If you have an officer that’s bad, even though that’s rare, we think that any perspective employer should definitely have access to the deeds that that person has done, without fear of liability,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said some departments will also have officers sign a waiver to release their records. The Michigan State Police has a department wide policy similar to the legislation already in place.

Sheriffs, chiefs of police and state police – all think the legislation is a good idea, Jones, a former sheriff, said.

“Law enforcement has the power of life and death and has the power to arrest citizens,” he said. “So we want to make sure we have the finest individuals out there working.”

However, there have been concerns expressed the policy could make it harder to get rid of bad cops. That’s because police agencies from a management perspective sometimes make deals about releasing or documenting information as a way to get officers to resign.

Stevenson said this wasn’t a concern from a police chief’s perspective because, “The truth is the truth.”

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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