Mimesis Law
13 August 2020

To Get Good Cops, You Have To Hire Good People

May 17, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Background investigations are a key part of the hiring process for police officers. If a police department does good background investigations, it can eliminate many potential problem officers. And background investigations are conducted differently than criminal investigations, or for that matter, investigations into civil cases.

In criminal investigations, the investigator looks at the facts of the case, applies those to the elements of the various offenses that may be involved, and determines if he or she can prove those elements beyond a reasonable doubt. If they have probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed and a particular person committed it, they can obtain a warrant for that person’s arrest and develop more evidence to prove their case from there.

In a civil investigation, one looks at the facts and tries to determine if they can prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence, anything that is just over 50% of the evidence presented. It can involve a tort, a private wrong against someone, like what happens in a traffic accident case. Or it can be a contract dispute or any number of other claims.

In a background investigation, however, the investigator is trying to qualify or disqualify an individual for employment or for a clearance. The investigator is attempting to ascertain what the applicant has been involved in, how it applies to the applicant’s character, and how that character applies to the job or the clearance being sought. The investigator is going to look at everything. Then he will sum it up in a report or a memo to the hiring authority, laying out the facts as to this applicant. A properly done background search can be predictive of what kind of officer an applicant will develop into in the future. Or at least that’s the theory, and it seems to bear out.

In Jacksonville, Florida recently, probationary police officer Akinyemi Borisade was fired and criminally charged with Simple Battery[i] following his striking a handcuffed female prisoner several times in the stomach after she tried to kick him. The prisoner was apparently fired from Scores Gentlemen’s Club and Steak House, and refused to leave, so she was arrested for Criminal Trespass after Warning and Resisting Arrest with Violence. She was still worked up at the jail, where she clearly kicked at Borisade.

The problem is that Borisade responded inappropriately. The female was handcuffed, so there are any number of ways to control her without repeatedly striking her. An internal affairs investigation was fairly simple to conduct, the videotape pretty much showed everything. The Sheriff’s Office fired Borisade within a day, easy to do as he was still on probationary status. That’s not the critical issue—the issue is how he got hired in the first place.

You see, Borisade had been arrested and charged with misdemeanor theft in 2008, for shoplifting clothing.[ii] He pleaded no contest and received “withheld adjudication,” which basically means if you successfully complete probation, you get the case dismissed at the end without a conviction. He also had a series of traffic tickets out of Duval County from 2008 to 2014, the year before he was hired. Finally, it was reported that he had broken out the rear window of a female’s car in 2011, in an incident that sounds a lot like domestic or dating violence.

So the problem here is not how the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office handled the situation, they acted quickly and decisively when there was overwhelming evidence of misconduct. No, the question is how did Borisade get hired in the first place.

Why would a department hire someone who conceded committing a crime of moral turpitude, a theft of clothing? Who could not control his driving, with repeated moving violations? Who had been involved in an apparent act of violence by busting out the back window of a woman’s car?

The current sheriff, Mike Williams, has eased hiring requirements and standards in order to increase the diversity of the sheriff’s office. Former sheriff Nat Glover[iii] stated:

I think it would sound a little condescending to say in order to get minorities you have to lower the qualities, or lower the standards, and I don’t think that’s what the sheriff is saying. I don’t think that’s what his primary intent is.

Just to head off any comments, Williams is white, Glover is black; and Glover supports efforts to increase minority representation on the department. But Glover is right, you don’t get good police officers, of any race, by lowering the standards. You get good officers by hiring people that meet the high standards that you set.

You get it by not overlooking thefts, assaultive behavior, and multiple traffic offenses.

You get it by not hiring the Borisades in the first place.

[i] Simple Battery in Florida is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

[ii] See Case 16-2008-MM-032426-AXXX-MA, Duval County.

[iii] Sheriff from 1996-2004, replaced by John Rutherford (2004-2015).

4 Comments on this post.

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  • More
    17 May 2016 at 11:24 am - Reply

    What about the concept– so frequently stated here–that arrests show nothing about guilt, so should be ignored unless there’s an actual adjudication of guilt? And that minor offenses shouldn’t disqualify people from jobs?

    • Peter Orlowicz
      17 May 2016 at 1:30 pm - Reply

      Police departments (or prosecutor’s offices, or other positions of public trust) can and should be picky about who they hire. You don’t have to be convicted of a crime to be a poor candidate for particular kinds of jobs (and a plea of no contest usually means you admit that the prosecutor has sufficient evidence to convict if the charge goes to trial, I think.)

      As for minor offenses, context is important. I might not be in favor of Walmart or Target rejecting job applicants solely because of misdemeanor marijuana possession, which doesn’t have anything to do with the job they would be performing, but a misdemeanor charge of stealing cash from a register is a different matter. I think the point being made here is that the incidents in former officer Borisade’s past were the kinds if incidents which would cast doubt on his sense of good judgment, honesty, and impulse control. That history should arguably lead to a police department deciding not to take a chance on someone with that questionable background.

      On the federal level, background checks dig into all sorts of issues like financial responsibility (have you paid all your bills on time? Any bankruptcy filings or civil cases where you were a party?) even if you’re not a law enforcement officer. Being late on paying your water bill isn’t a criminal offense, and neither is filing bankruptcy, but they are both items that can be relevant on a background check for employment. Positions of public trust in the government are special cases from that standpoint (one reason why some states permit sealed or expunged records to remain accessible to law enforcement for hiring checks), and it seems to me one of the recurring themes from several writers here is that police officers should be held to higher standards than average citizens because of the nature of their responsibilities and power over the public.

    • Greg Prickett
      17 May 2016 at 4:22 pm - Reply

      @More, just to clarify, Borisade admitted to shoplifting, according to publicly available court records. The offenses, per se, did not disqualify him. The character issues that those charges raised should have DQ’d him.

      You don’t get good officers by allowing people with questionable morals on the department.

      Peter explains it very well.

  • Convicted of Murder: Colorado Officer James Ashby
    28 June 2016 at 9:50 am - Reply

    […] talked about background investigations before hiring. If you want to hire good people, you do a thorough background investigation. You […]