Criminal prosecutions against police for acts of force in the line of duty are rarely successful. Two years ago this month, 25-year-old Freddie Gray died from a neck and spinal injury he sustained while under arrest in Baltimore, Maryland. Six officers were charged—with violations ranging from misconduct to what’s known as “second-degree depraved-heart murder”—but ultimately, none were convicted. The officers were permitted to handle administrative work pending an internal investigation by the Montgomery County Police in Maryland, the results of which are protected by privacy laws.
Yet despite the resulting public outrage, this outcome is not surprising. “The legal system doesn’t like second-guessing police officers, because they know the job is hard and violent and they have to keep bad guys off the streets,” a criminologist told NBC News after charges against the Baltimore police were dropped. But one proposed way to work around the courts—and police departments—to address serious misconduct is through the issuance of professional police licenses that can be revoked by the state.
Roger Goldman, a law professor emeritus with Saint Louis University in Missouri, researches ways states can issue these licenses and adopt systems that would decertify officers after instances of serious misconduct, a descriptor that varies from state to state. Without such a system in place, he argues, an officer could be fired in one department and easily rehired by another nearby. For states that already have a system, Goldman advises them on improving the standards required for officers to maintain their certification.