(LEX 18) — After calls for police accountability reached a height in 2020, a new law came into effect this summer that intends to make it easier to get rid of problem officers and allow hiring agencies to flag police who had issues at previous jobs.
Kentucky Senate Bill 80 passed this spring and took effect in June, giving the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council, or KLEC, more power to decertify bad police officers and inform law enforcement agencies of potential new hires' previous issues. Since then two officers have been recommended for decertification by KLEC and four were found not to qualify for decertification.
The council has received 72 inquiries from police agencies around the state wanting to check the status of officers before hiring them.
“It is not a perfect system and sometimes we fail to identify a problem,” Georgetown Police Chief Mike Bosse said. “But when we do identify a problem, there should be a process that keeps that person from wearing that badge, simply because of the amount of responsibility that comes with that job, and law enforcement supports that.”
One of the issues to be tackled by the new changes is that of officers who were suspected of misconduct at one agency but resigned from that agency before an internal investigation could be completed or before they could be fired. Agencies will now be required to turn over information to KLEC on pending internal investigations into officers who quit or are fired.
It will be hiring agencies’ responsibility to request that information on officers they’re considering, but Bosse believes that departments will. Bosse is a member of KLEC, serving on the council’s executive committee and as the chair of the professional standards committee.
Bosse was on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus for training on the day he was interviewed by LEX 18 and had just left a class where he asked 70 police chiefs what they thought of the changes brought on by Senate Bill 80. All of them supported what the new law intends to do, he said.
“Good cops do not like bad cops,” Bosse said. “Most of the information that we get about bad cops comes from good cops and that’s how these investigations start. We don’t want amongst us in this career people who don’t have good intentions, that have lost their integrity.”
How it works
The process of reviewing an officer who might meet the requirements for decertification begins when an agency turns over information pertaining to officers who were under internal investigation when they resigned or were fired. If a department doesn’t turn over the required information, the agency could be subject to losing their Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program funding, which amounts to $4,000 annually per employee, Bosse said.
Once KLEC has the information, the professional standards committee reviews it and any internal investigation that was halted by the resignation of an officer is completed by a council investigator. The professional standards committee then decides whether that officer should be recommended for decertification.
If the complete council then votes to move ahead with the decertification process, the officer in question will then face a hearing. Since the law went into effect recently, no officers have gone through the complete decertification process yet.
“One of the things we discovered in law enforcement, and our legislators (did) as well, was that there were officers who we call ‘failing to fail,’” Bosse said. “They should have failed in their ability to become a police officer but they for whatever reason made it through, and it showed up in their activities as a police officer, some kind of misconduct issue.”
Senate Bill 80 added grounds for removing certification to the existing statute and gave the council subpoena power. It also allows police agencies to offer conditional employment to new hires, pending investigation into the officer’s former employment conduct and certification status.
The law protects agencies providing and accessing information on officers from litigation by that officer.
Agencies that request information about officers they're considering hiring who were under investigation at their last agency can obtain the officer's complete personnel file, records related to arrest or prosecution of that officer, and any records related to a completed or incomplete internal investigation before the officer left, according to the final bill.
The problem with ‘wandering officers’
Joshua Preece was a Kentucky State Police trooper for about a decade before he resigned from the agency in 2014. He then was hired by the Bath County Sheriff’s Department.
This was before Senate Bill 80 passed, and information about Preece’s time with KSP wasn’t as readily available -- including the fact that he resigned just as the agency was informing him that he’d be fired after an internal investigation.
LEX 18 obtained the KSP personnel file for Preece, and it shows that he resigned on the same day he was notified that he would be dismissed. An internal investigation had found evidence that he tried to contact women for sex using phone numbers he got as a result of calls for service that were made to the sheriff’s department, according to a memorandum in his file.
Additionally, Preece was accused of having a “sexual texting relationship” with a woman who he knew had a warrant out for her arrest, and making no effort to arrest her, according to the memorandum. He was found to have had a similar texting relationship with two female inmates, according to the memo and audio recordings.
Since he resigned rather than being fired, Preece was able to move on to the Bath County Sheriff’s Office. He has since admitted that while serving as a deputy there, he responded to a call about an out of control minor and took the minor to a remote location where he sexually assaulted her, according to court records and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Preece pleaded guilty in October to a federal charge of enticing a minor victim to “engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of child pornography,” according to the justice department. He is set to be sentenced in February of next year.
He still has multiple charges, including third-degree rape, pending in state court.
Accountability and standards
Supporters hope the changes brought on by Senate Bill 80 will provide an avenue to stop officers who pose a danger to the public or other officers.
“When you give a group of people the kind of authority that you give police officers, we have to be humble enough to answer the difficult questions,” Bosse said.
While he said there are more good police than bad police, officers have to be held to a high standard.
“I love Kentucky law enforcement, I love police officers for the job that they do, and it’s up to us to hold that measure, hold each other accountable,” Bosse said.
When Senate Bill 80 passed this spring, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky wrote that the step was “one small piece of the puzzle in reimagining the role of police in public safety and holding law enforcement accountable to the people they are sworn to protect and serve.”
The Kentucky Law Enforcement Council is made up largely of people who are currently in law enforcement, work in law enforcement education or training, or are in other positions tied to the criminal justice system, according to their website. There is also a “citizen-at-large,” a county judge-executive and a vacant seat for a mayor on the council.
Eight officers’ cases will be reviewed by KLEC for decertification this month and six are pending investigation.
“Strengthening Kentucky’s policing depends on the ability for KLEC to uphold the utmost ethical and professional standards for the commonwealth’s law enforcement officers and agencies,” KLEC executive director John Moberly said in a statement. “KLEC strongly believes that this bill is a step toward creating a better Kentucky through criminal justice reform.”