After it was revealed that Colorado has some of the weakest laws in the nation in weeding out bad cops, the state’s police certification board implemented new standards that would make it mandatory for all potential police officers to receive psychological and physical evaluations before they get hired.
The Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training also implemented new rules that would prevent rogue cops from simply transferring to a new department after losing their job over misconduct.
The new rules, which go into effect January 31, will also require police departments to conduct more extensive background searches on applicants.
The changes are a result of a Denver Post investigative report that determined the following:
• At least six Denver officers who were fired or resigned amid allegations of wrongdoing in the past decade found work at other smaller agencies.
• Rogue cops can negotiate to keep past transgressions secret. Nadia Gatchell was fired from the Denver police force in 2012 for lies she told superiors during an investigation into abuse of off-duty secondary employment. The officer, who previously had been disciplined in Denver for destroying marijuana evidence, was able to keep the decision to fire her out of her personnel file by agreeing to drop a Civil Service appeal. The city’s safety manager at the time, Alex Martinez, agreed to remove her dismissal letter from her personnel file and have her file reflect that she had resigned.
Gatchell, who declined to comment, went on to work at the Elizabeth Police Department for about a year after her firing. Now she’s working as a parole officer for the Department of Corrections, her fourth law enforcement job.
• Officers who have their certificate for police work revoked often are repeat offenders. Of the nearly 280 officers who have been decertified in the past decade in Colorado, at least 29 had past serious personnel issues or arrests. Many more likely are repeat offenders, but how many could not be determined because many agencies in the state won’t release discipline or personnel files for public review.
• About a third of those 280 decertified for police work in Colorado had worked at more than one police agency. Seven of those officers had shuffled to four or more police agencies before they ended up with a conviction that brought a final end to their careers in law enforcement.
• The state’s review panel, the Colorado Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, does not always keep up with those who aren’t employed by a police agency but remain certified for law enforcement work.
The Denver Post’s investigation also revealed a Colorado state trooper named Kirk Firko who was fired in 2010 for kicking in the door of a drunk driving suspect and killing him was able to land a job at the Mountain View Police Department where he continues to work today.
And a Denver police officer named Michael Jimenez resigned from the department in 2008 after he was accused of picking up a prostitute in his patrol car and having sex with her while on duty, only to get hired at the Custer County Sheriff’s Office in 2009.
He lost that job in less than a year, then was hired at the Fowler Police Department, losing that job as well after pleading guilty to driving drunk.
Jimenez, however, is still certified as a police officer, so he is still eligible for hire.
Then there is Todd Vecellio, who bounced around for department to department despite a conviction for abusing a 4-year-old girl and a couple of other arrests for domestic violence, which resulted in dismissals. He ended up as a campus police officer at the University of Colorado where he was arrested in an internet sex sting in 2007.
The state’s certification board finally revoked his license after he received for felony convictions on child-sex charges.
The Denver Post reports that a psychological exam per candidate before being hired can cost up to $375.
The physical exam are, in most cases, covered by the candiate’s medical insurance. The publication also found after a series of investigations that the discipline system for cops in Colorado is more laid back than at least in 39 other states.
Police Officers in Colorado can only have their law enforcement certification revoked if there are convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors. In other states, misconduct while on duty, drug abuse or issues with personnel are enough to get an officer fired.
Due to these lenient policies, police officers in Colorado hop from department to department when they are involved in wrongdoing.
The POST board is looking to change how judgments and sentences are handled and are considering background checks to be mandatory such as in the Arizona Police Departments.
“If I’m hiring someone even if they’ve been an officer at another jurisdiction, I’m going to require them to go through it,” said John Camper, Grand Junction Police Chief, who is also POST vice chairman.
“The psych tests I’ve seen, they are checking on what type of problems someone has experienced in the workplace. They are asking for what conflicts a person is having with friends, neighbors and co-workers.”