Arizona police officers are certified for duty by a state board. Yet a proposal that the board be informed of officers’ misconduct so it may make proper decisions regarding the suspension or revocation of that certification is being criticized as interfering with local sheriffs’ and police chiefs’ authority over law enforcement personnel.
Given that currently the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board is not given the names of officers, sheriff’s deputies or state troopers convicted of driving under the influence, for example — it is only told if those cops are fired or resign — that means there could be cops on duty today who have one or more DUI convictions.
A system in which, as the Tribune’s Kim Smith reported Thursday, an officer lost her certification for shoplifting a $3 tube of toothpaste while cops convicted for DUI remained fully certified for duty is one in need of an immediate overhaul.
We agree that those in charge of police agencies should be allowed to run them without undue interference. But the discipline or termination of an officer is a separate, local decision, while determining whether that officer should remain qualified to serve in any other agency is the POST board’s purpose.
Such a two-tiered setup is similar to that for lawyers, who must pass the state bar exam and thus be certified by the Arizona State Bar Association before being able to practice law here.
Certainly an individual law firm’s partners have the right to decide whether to suspend or terminate the employment of a lawyer working as an associate in that firm. Likewise the attorney general or county attorney has the same right.
But it remains the separate responsibility of the state, which is authorized by law to certify attorneys to practice law in Arizona, to determine whether that attorney may do so for any other employer.
The same applies to any police officer, his or her superiors, and the POST board. The first step in an overhaul is requiring that the board be fully informed of all disciplinary action taken against Arizona police officers.
We expect law enforcement personnel to be tough enforcers of impaired-driving laws. We give them badges, firearms and the power of arrest in order to help preserve a safe, orderly society. If they are to have that much power over citizens, those citizens have a right to expect that any violation of those laws by them should result in the revocation of that power in Arizona.