Upholding police officer standards
Tualatin Police Chief Kent Barker helps determine when officers need to lose certifications
In every profession, there is room for error. When the employees are public servants, however, citizens expect this margin of error to shrink. And when it comes to police officers, the margin is expected to be even smaller.
But, as with everyone else, police officers cant be perfect 100 percent of the time, off-duty conduct included. Thats where the Police Policy Committee comes in with a recommendation as to whether the officer should lose his or her certification.
We go through a complete process where we read the reports about why this person could potentially lose their certification, said Tualatin Police Cheif Kent Barker, who serves as the chair of the committee. We take our profession very seriously, and if people need to lose their license, then they need to lose their license and they cant practice in Oregon anymore.
Once reports go through the committee, recommendations are sent to the Board on Police Standards and Training, which Barker also chairs. A governing body of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, the board decides which employees and former employees of various disciplines need to have their certifications revoked. Alongside the Police Policy Committee are committees representing other DPSST disciplines, such as firefighters and corrections officers.
The decisions are not taken lightly, and Barker said there doesnt usually need to be much discussion with the board as to whether someones certification should be taken. The larger discussions happen in the committees, and by the time the board meets, the decision is often a clear one.
I take it seriously, because we could potentially be taking a license away from somebody. Its their law enforcement career, he said. Most of us, weve been on the committee long enough and we kind of have this tolerance level of what were going to allow or not. I just think that everybody whos on the board recognizes how important the professionalism is of being a police officer for the state of Oregon.
Having been involved with the board and committee for several years, often, Barker said, hes presented with situations of dishonesty. What the officer did wasnt necessarily worth a certification revocation until a lie or cover-up followed the initial action.
A lot of these guys lose their certifications not because of what they did wrong, but because they did something wrong and then they lied about it, and they tried to lie to get out of it, Barker said. So they end up losing their certification for being dishonest, because in this job, youve got to be honest.
The punishments for the various crimes reflect this belief. When the committee and board evaluate the cases of specific officers, theyre looking at what they did in terms of: insubordination, misconduct, gross misconduct, misuse of authority, disregard for the rights of others, and dishonesty. Excluding dishonesty, if officers do something that falls into one of those categories, they can have their certification revoked in Oregon for three to 15 years. If theyre dishonest, they can lose their certification from five years to life.
But in his time on the board, said Barker, cases of dishonesty have resulted in lifetime revocations 100 percent of the time.
So many times when you see these things, theyll write a letter to the board saying, Please dont take my certification away from me. This will destroy my life. It will destroy my family, said Barker. It pulls at your heart, because you do recognize that this is their career was their career but at the same time, we still have to uphold the ethical standards of being a police officer. If we dont do that, then it diminishes the credibility of law enforcement.
Barker said that time after time, hes presented with situations hes seen before, either on paper or during his career. This is one of the most difficult things about being part of the committee and board, and what he finds the most disheartening.
Some of this stuff I read, and its the same mistake that other cops made two or three years ago, he said. All it is is just a different name and a different agency, but its the same unethical conduct.
Though the work can be upsetting at times, Barker said its important to remember that the cases the board looks at are a small percentage out of all the officers in Oregon. And on his end, before officers start working at the Tualatin Police Department, he gives them a four-page letter detailing the mistakes hes witnessed during his career that have caused officers to lose their certifications.
Ive worked with people who have lost their certifications, and Im still in contact with them, Barker said. And you know what? Theyre doing great doing something else. Theyre just not a cop anymore.