Reporting on wandering officers: How other states handle the issue

Recent events have revealed serious flaws in the state’s reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies when they dismiss a peace officer.

This report, called the F-5 in Texas, lists the circumstances around the officer’s separation from the agency and states whether the discharge was honorable, general or dishonorable. It is intended to address the problem of wandering officers, referring to an officer who, after leaving his job under questionable circumstances, is able to find law enforcement work elsewhere.

Officer Matthew Luckhurst, for instance, was able to find work as an officer in Floresville last year when he was fired from the San Antonio Police Department after trying to feed a sandwich containing dog feces to a man experiencing homelessness.

More recently, the chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s police force, Pete Arredondo, was initially successful in having his discharge category automatically upgraded after the district chose at first not to contest Arredondo’s appeal.

Only afterward, when local media outlets publicized Texas 2036’s reporting on this incident, did the school district change course and seek a contested hearing on the appeal. This incident drew attention to the overall lack of transparency around the process.

The Texas House and Senate are currently debating legislation, commonly referred to as a Sunset Bill, that would continue the existence of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. A key issue that must be settled are reforms to what law enforcement agencies must list on the F-5 Report.

We’ve written before about how the current F-5 system is broken, and how the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission’s recommendations would repeal the entire reporting system instead of making necessary improvements to the process. In doing so, the TCOLE Sunset Bill would leave Texans in the dark when it comes to providing meaningful data about wandering officers and would reduce information on officer separations that is available to future law enforcement agencies looking to hire an officer.

As stakeholders and legislators consider how to proceed, it’s useful to consider this commonly asked question in state-level policymaking — what do other states do? After reviewing statutes, regulations and policies from all 50 states, the answer is fairly clear — Texas would be an outlier if we removed the requirement for agencies to report to TCOLE how an officer separated.

This review, conducted between February and March, asks whether states have a requirement to report the circumstances for an officer’s separation. For at least 43 other states, the answer is yes. They require law enforcement agencies to report details around a separation that includes a description of the nature, underlying reasons or circumstances of an officer’s separation to the state.

Three states require only partial reporting. Agencies in these states must report some details that could relate to separation, but as of March, it was not clear whether those requirements included routine reporting of officer separation that included the underlying reasons, nature or circumstances underlying the separation.

Three other states are listed as “unknown,” because as of March, we could not identify any relevant form, regulation or statute describing an agency’s obligation to report an officer’s separation.

Only one state — Minnesota — requires a bare separation report with no additional information about the nature of the separation. This describes where Texas would be should the TCOLE Sunset Bill pass as currently written.

Among the 43 states that have reporting requirements for officer separations, the level of detail varies substantially. Some states require written explanations. Others list more than a dozen different boxes to describe the nature of the separation. Many other states have a simpler set of boxes from which to choose, with some representative examples being: resigned, retired, terminated/discharged and deceased.

The following is a brief description of the reporting requirements in each state that includes either links to the forms themselves where available or the underlying regulation or statute governing the notice requirement. A state’s “POST” refers to the “peace officer standards and training” body — the state-level agency responsible for overseeing law enforcement professionals in that state.

This review of other states helps inform a fundamental question. In thinking through TCOLE Sunset, stakeholders and lawmakers should ask a simple question: Does the TCOLE Sunset Bill make it easier or harder for an officer like Matthew Luckhurst to get a new job? As it stands, it is certainly not harder.