Why we need a mandatory nationwide police decertification index

As the country continues to hold crucial discussions about police reform, it is clear there is an absolute need for departments to have universal standards for how they screen and hire applicants with a desire to work in law enforcement.

The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) maintains the National Decertification Index (NDI). The Index is a nationwide registry of law enforcement officer certificate or license revocation actions relating to misconduct. The information is provided via a secure internet-accessible platform developed and hosted by Envisage Technologies.

The NDI keeps law enforcement agencies from potentially hiring officers who have criminal backgrounds or who have had their certification revoked for cause by a contributing state. The system can flag potentially rogue officers who are jumping from one state to another after having their license or certification revoked in their home state.

Fired and rehired

Each fatal error by a police officer has the potential to do lasting damage to individuals, a community and the entire nation.  Every questionable use-of-force incident erodes police credibility and makes it harder for good cops to do a good job, creating an increasingly dangerous environment for both police and civilians.

Adding to a growing frustration is the fact that officers involved in use-of-force fatalities often have had previous complaints, disciplinary action, and even firings on their records. The idea that problem officers are still on the job, sometimes moving to a new area after being fired for misconduct, is the topic of a recent study published in the Yale Law Journal, which calls for a more comprehensive and unified nationwide decertification registry to keep such “wandering officers” off the U.S. police rolls.

“Wandering officers” are those who have been fired in one place and have moved to another locality to take another job in law enforcement. Often, those firings reflect serious misconduct, yet many officers manage to escape their past and find new employment. Sometimes their record is not shared by the previous department or checked by the new department. Often, the misconduct did not rate as serious enough for criminal prosecution or even serious disciplinary action, yet still would have been a red flag for any prospective employer.

The Yale Law Journal study by Ben Grunwald & John Rappaport found that in Florida alone, about 1,000 officers employed at any given time in the past few years had been fired from a previous position. And while it’s often seen as admirable to give a fellow officer a second chance, thorough statistical analysis in the Florida study found that officers who behave badly once are more likely to do so again, and that overall, the risk of hiring such officers isn’t worth it.

Tracking problem officers

In theory, it should be easy to track such officers. In nearly every state, law enforcement officers must be certified by a state authority. In 45 states, the government entity that certifies officers also has the power to decertify, effectively removing the officer’s license to practice.

Unfortunately, the NDI is hindered by issues of uniformity, participation and access. Five states plus the District of Columbia have no decertification authority. Reporting to the NDI is voluntary, and as of 2015, only 38 states contributed to the database, often with no regularity. When hiring, most local agencies cannot query the NDI directly and must rely on their state POST boards, which do not always take the time to check the database. Such a piecemeal approach does not provide the widespread benefits originally intended.

There is also no consensus among state police organizations on what types of misconduct will result in decertification. In many states, it is difficult to fire an officer for cause, and prosecutors are reluctant to press charges against an officer they may see as an ally. Some states require a criminal conviction before an officer can be decertified, and therefore such actions are rare.

Expanded, standardized, and mandatory

Download your Use-of-Force Toolkit


Efforts are underway to improve uniformity, participation, and access to develop a more robust, standardized, mandatory, and broader-reaching national decertification database. In 2015, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended the adoption of such a database to identify officers whose law enforcement licenses were revoked due to misconduct. Both police and academic sources agree that a more uniform and mandatory tracking system could help agencies avoid hiring problem officers.

Another key goal is to expand the scope of the National Decertification Index to include all misconduct-related terminations, and perhaps all involuntary terminations or all separations of any kind, regardless of whether they resulted in decertification. This would resemble the National Practitioner Databank (NPDB), which tracks not only medical malpractice and fraud but also certain disciplinary actions.

State and federal governments are under growing pressure to develop a uniform and mandatory reporting standard for a truly effective national police database. Several options have been put forward. It seems most logical to develop a stronger NDI on the existing framework, expanding and enforcing reporting requirements.

How it works

Participation in the NDI is free of charge, both to agencies contributing information and agencies querying the database. Information contained in the NDI is provided by participating state government agencies responsible for licensing or revoking law enforcement certificates.

The Acadis Readiness Suite is the only Training Management System that allows direct reporting to the NDI. Such a seamless approach relieves departments from the additional labor and data management tasks that would be required to gather the information and submit it separately, thus expanding participation and improving overall compliance.

The NDI is one of many topics addressed in an ongoing webinar series, the Five Keys to Leading Through the Policing Crisis Webinar Series, What Leaders Can Do Now to Ensure Success Tomorrow: Join Envisage Technologies, creators of the Acadis Readiness Suite, for a series of critical conversations exploring the keys to building and managing tomorrow’s police department (to register, visit https://info.acadis.com/5keys/).

References and resources




Posted on Jul 1, 2020