A new USA Today Network investigation uncovered disturbing patterns of police officers rising through the ranks despite being convicted of crimes and accused of misconduct. The investigation found 32 people who became "police chiefs or sheriffs, despite a finding of serious misconduct, usually at another department."
A lot of police departments don't have the money or resources to do thorough background checks on candidates, and police misconduct is often secretive and hard to uncover, reports CBS News' Jeff Pegues. He spoke to an Ohio police chief who said an officer fired twice from his department went on to become the police chief of a nearby town.
Michael Goodwin, the police chief of New Philadelphia, Ohio, said there is one word that comes to mind when he hears the name of his department's former officer, David Cimperman: chaos.
"He was here for 15 years before he resigned. The city fired him twice. An arbitrator gave him his job back twice," Goodwin said. "He was being wrote up or disciplined by his supervisors on a regular basis."
Cimperman was hired in the early 1990s. Internal police reports and county records obtained by USA Today Network show years of misconduct followed. Among the allegations: Cimperman tampered with police radios so he could "make untraceable calls," which blocked 911 calls from coming through. He was also accused of engaging in a high-speed chase with a motorcyclist who didn't pull his visor down. Cimperman crashed, flipped his patrol car and had to shoot a window to get out.
Even after Cimperman was fired and rehired twice, Chief Goodwin says allegations continued to pile up, and in 2012, the department gave Cimperman an ultimatum – resign or face more possible disciplinary action. He chose to resign on his own accord, which allowed him to get another job.
Three years later, Cimperman was back on the force, this time,as chief in nearby Amsterdam, Ohio. Nobody from Amsterdam called to check on his past – something that doesn't surprise Goodwin.
"What we are finding out is, across the state, police departments are not doing a thorough background check," Goodwin said. "I think they are in a hurry to get a body or boots on the ground."
Gary Pepperling is the mayor of Amsterdam. He hired Cimperman, whose misconduct allegedly continued.
"We needed a police officer bad, and he fit the bill for what we thought he would do," Pepperling said. "I think he's a criminal and that's disgusting, you know? And I feel bad I let the people down and didn't get rid of him sooner."
According to interviews and hiring forms obtained by USA Today Network, Cimperman allegedly added officers to Amsterdam's roster even though many of them never did any work. Instead, they allegedly logged hours for a private security company he ran on the side. A now published internal report also accuses Cimperman of misplacing evidence. The mayor said Cimperman was forced to resign.
Chris Davis, the vice president of investigations for USA Today Network, and his team analyzed troves of records and data from around the country, publishing many online. They found 85,000 police officers who have been disciplined or in trouble. Dozens of them are still working in departments, including some previously found guilty of a crime.
"It's not easy to find information often about officers who have been in trouble," Davis said. "You need a resource that is better than what exists to keep track of officers who have had problems and there is no national complete data set that's available."
Chief Goodwin agrees. He wants to see departments doing background checks and thoroughly investigating officers before they are hired, something he says his department already does.
"Things are getting kind of set aside that's not fair to the people who pay our salaries, which are the citizens of our cities," Goodwin said.
USA Today Network published a list of more than 30,000 officers in 44 states who have been decertified, or essentially banned, from being an officer in their state. They hope this searchable database will help the public and future employers identify dangerous officers.
Cimperman told us "the article is not accurate, and places me in a false light." USA Today Network says he is still commissioned and working in Ohio as a paid part-timer.