Lax Oversight Allows ‘Problem Cops’ to Get New Jobs

The Detroit Free Press found two dozen officers who jumped from department to department like “Robocop,” an officer who beat a motorist in Inkster, Mi.

A motorist in Inkster, Mi., was beaten in 2015 by William Melendez, an officer known widely as “Robocop.” Melendez, an officer with a checkered history, never should have been on the streets that night, the Detroit Free Press reports. A Free Press investigation found he’s a prime example of how lax oversight of police officers in Michigan puts citizens at risk by allowing cops to slip from community to community  despite alarming conduct, criminal histories and lawsuits that cost taxpayers millions. The problems extend from urban departments to the suburbs. There’s no telling how many officers like Melendez might be on the job in Michigan. The investigation found “a stunning recurrence” of problem cops left on the street because they are protected by city officials, labor arbitrators or sympathetic chiefs who don’t end officers’ careers when given the chance. This allows them to move to other communities with no state intervention.

Police officers are among the most protected public employees in the state. Laws, unions, judges and city leaders often shield their disciplinary records and, in some cases, basic information like their names. Judges overseeing civil lawsuits routinely agree to seal records. Poor communities with heavily minority populations are magnets for problem cops. In competition with more affluent communities, these departments may lose out because their jobs are sometimes part-time and lower paying. After the Melendez episode, the Free Press investigated the departments that hired him, then branched out to other departments who have harbored problem cops. The newspaper identified about two dozen officers, many of whom jumped from department to department in recent years like Robocop.