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Wisconsin’s Plan To Combat Job-Hopping, Crooked Cops

The 'muni shuffle' is a law enforcement phenomenon that allows bad cops to bounce from department to department; in Wisconsin, they want to see it come to an end

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Jun 01, 2017 at 1:55 PM ET

Far too often, there are instances when a police officer will be disciplined, fired, or forced to resign from one law enforcement agency over disciplinary or other issues only to find a new job at another department a few towns over. The practice is known in law enforcement circles as the “muni shuffle” or “job hopping.” In Wisconsin, authorities are taking measures to keep it from happening — or at least let agencies know that a potential hire has a checkered past.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Department of Justice rolled out a new system that creates a database of police officers who have been fired, resigned instead of being fired, or resigned while under investigation that other agencies can check should the officer apply for a job at a cop-shop in another municipality. According to the Wisconsin DOJ, it’s the responsibility of the officer’s previous agency to add the officer to the database when he or she resigns or is fired. Currently, there are about 60 officers in the database.

The new system would also close loopholes that officers have previously been able to sneak through. In some cases, an officer will reach a non-disclosure agreement with his or her department before resigning, which prevents that agency from sharing any disciplinary issues laid out in the agreement with another agency or the public. Currently, those types of scenarios still exist in Wisconsin, but the state’s DOJ said it’s drafting legislation that would allow agencies to legally get around any such agreement.

The state’s DOJ did not respond to Vocativ’s interview requests.

The ‘Muni Shuffle’ Effect

There have been several instances in Wisconsin in which officers accused of serious infractions picked up and moved to another law enforcement agency. However, few are more glaring than that of Clark County Reserve Deputy Lee Lech, who was hired to be a part-time officer after he’d been accused of violently raping a city employee while he was a sheriff’s deputy in another county.

According to court records first obtained by USA Today’s Wisconsin network, Lech and a female employee were together at a training seminar in Milwaukee in 2011. The two were in a hotel room when the alleged assault took place. The woman claimed she tried to punch and kick Lech away, with no luck, in the hotel room where the alleged assault took place.

“I was not letting him do what he wanted to do, and he got up and went into the bathroom and he threw up,” the woman said, according to the court records.

The alleged victim sought medical attention and eventually reported the incident to authorities, who immediately opened an investigation into the alleged assault. But before the investigation was complete, and after Lech had refused to answer any of the investigator’s questions, he abruptly resigned, according to USA Today. And that’s when the investigation concluded. In November 2014, after a few months had passed, Lech was hired by Clark County, despite the fact that officials had been told about the rape allegations.

The “muni shuffle” is hardly exclusive to Wisconsin. As Vocativ previously reported in 2015, law enforcement agencies in and around St. Louis had a problem with bad cops bouncing from department to department after getting fired or resigning for one disciplinary reason or another.

One of the most notable shufflers was Marvin Shannon, who, despite multiple suspensions and criminal charges, worked for at least eight different St. Louis-area law enforcement agencies over the course of his 19-year career. Shannon was once suspended after he injured two kids by firing a shotgun in a crowded parking lot. Later, he accused of stealing money seized as evidence. In 2002, Shannon, who was on felony probation for failing to pay child support, was finally fired from one of his jobs  when he was charged with assault for reportedly cutting a middle school student at Riverview Gardens Middle School with a pocket knife.

A Costly Training

So, what’s driving police officers with prior disciplinary problems to other agencies? More often than not, it’s due to finances. The “muni shuffle” is a two-step process, according to a 2015 study conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum looked at improving law enforcement in the St. Louis area. The first part involves a police department separating from a problem officer before completing a formal disciplinary proceeding that might cost the officer his or her state-issued police certificate. The second part involves a separate department, one that’s eager to find an already trained and certified officer at a low cost, hiring the officer without fully investigating his or her background.

Because of this, it’s the department — not the recruit — that’s usually on the hook for training costs for new recruits, which can run to several thousand dollars. The costs run anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars for a law enforcement agency to send a recruit to the academy, according to an August 2015 article in Police Chief Magazine.

“County, regional, and state academies spend about $11,200 per trainee, and college, university, or technical school academies spend about $4,600 per trainee,” the report noted. “On the other hand, city or municipal academies reportedly spend about $36,200 per trainee.“

As police budgets shrink, filling an opening on the force with a new recruit often isn’t economically feasible and forces agencies to figure out ways to cut costs, like ignoring an officer’s disciplinary issues to avoid having to pay to send a recruit to the academy.