Past Problems Plague Cop Recruits

Past Problems Plague Cop Recruits
Posted by FoM on January 09, 2000 at 07:28:04 PT
By David Migoya, Denver Post Staff Writer 
Source: Denver Post
Only six of the 30 new Denver police officers who were put on the streets late last year had no history of drug use or problems with the law - the kind of recruits some city officials say Denver is bypassing too often.That means 80 percent of the June 1999 class of police recruits either used drugs experimentally or ran afoul of law enforcement before they were given a Denver police badge and gun, Denver Civil Service Commission records show.
Some of the past problems seem relatively minor - accidents in another department's police cruiser, vandalism as a teenager and a puff or two from a marijuana cigarette in college - while others could be deemed more serious. But all take on heightened interest in the wake of the hiring of Ellis "Max" Johnson II, 40, an admitted drug abuser and thief who was admitted to the police academy in November and whose hiring has caused intense scrutiny of the city's process for choosing its police force.Johnson is still in the police academy. The class of June 1999 is already in uniform, although its members remain on probation until the spring, according to department rules. Efforts to determine whether all 30 are on the streets were unsuccessful, and police officials did not provide that information.The application records, obtained by The Denver Post through the state's open records law, for the first time show the public the scope of the issue raised by Johnson's hiring: whether Denver is hiring the best candidates for a police department that has run into its own problems over the years, and whether those new hires will be trouble-free once they're on the streets.The records reveal other issues as well, such as the city's policy of allowing candidates to test for the job over and over again, and, in some cases, the city's hiring of recruits who not long ago were tossed from other departments.Some city officials say it's not good news and magnifies their ire over Johnson's hiring and how recruits with a checkered past - no matter how slight - are putting on a police uniform."What the heck is going on here?" bellowed City Councilman Ted Hackworth when told of the most recent revelations. "How are these people getting hired? Johnson is just opening up the door to what's really going on in that department. When there are 100-percent-qualified candidates, why aren't they getting hired? Why are these people coming first?"The whole process is causing a stir. The district attorney is investigating Johnson's hiring; the city council is bickering over how the entire process works and whether to replace one of the commission members; and Mayor Wellington Webb is piecing together a new review commission to analyze whether hiring procedures for police and firefighters need drastic change."There will never be a Denver police officer from this day forward that a defense attorney will not bring up their drug records, their past histories and especially their indiscretions," Councilman Ed Thomas said. "To me, that is just the absolute worst. This has to stop. They've tarnished the badge."The identities of the 30 officers hired in June 1999, the second of three academy classes that year, were not released by the commission because of privacy issues. Johnson's identity is the only one known because internal documents that were provided to the media show his history and alleged circumstances surrounding his appointment.Johnson claimed he stopped abusing drugs in 1987 - a sign that he's turned his life around and deserves a second chance, according to Public Safety Manager Butch Montoya. He washed out of the Glendale Police Department during his initial training in May 1998. Five months later he was applying in Denver.That shouldn't have happened, critics say. Even the city manager of Glendale has said he was stunned when he learned that Denver put Johnson on the job.Johnson wasn't the first, however, to be bounced from one department and land in Denver, the records for the class of June 1999 show. For instance, one officer couldn't qualify with a gun at another police department - a requirement to be a police officer anywhere - and was fired after just two months, then became a cashier. A year later, Denver provided the applicant a job and a gun, records show.And while a decade-old lawsuit over a Denver police car crash that killed a civilian languishes in court - the officer involved allegedly had a checkered civilian driving record when the city hired him - the commission is certifying applicants who already have had police-car crashes in other jurisdictions, records show.Three new officers had at least three crashes with the police cruisers they had been driving while working as officers in other cities, records show. Most were minor.While not in a police car, another new hire admitted to having been convicted for drunken driving.Critics say the types of people being hired as Denver police officers are reflective of a hiring system gone awry. Proponents say it's reflective of society and the best they can do."I don't buy that at all," Hackworth said. "Our eligibility list is 1,500 people and the commission picks, 30 and we can't find everyone that's not using drugs or getting into trouble? I find that unbelievable.""Show me," said Paul Torres, the commission's beleaguered executive director who's been at the center of recent controversial hires."I would ask them if they know of anyone who hasn't tried it, I'd like to know who and to meet them," Torres said Friday. "I'm sure they exist, but to find them in a population of 1.5 million is tough, and I won't be able to get them all to show up in one day." Of the 30 officers who were hired in June, 19 of them experimented sporadically with marijuana several years before they were hired. For some of them, it didn't end there. One officer said he smoked pot about 25 times in a 16-month period and bought it illegally three times, while another admitted to taking amphetamines and smoking marijuana in a U.S. Army barracks. But two of them also admitted to using steroids several times, another to cocaine as well as an exotic drug known as ecstasy, one to mushrooms and another to speed.All 30 filled out applications in 1998. The most recent any admitted to using drugs was in 1994 for one and 1993 for another. The others who admitted to trying drugs did so in the 1980s or earlier while in college or high school, records show.Denver allows candidates to have used marijuana a year before applying to the department - a restriction that would automatically disqualify a candidate at most other metro-area departments."Temptation today is greater than ever in the history of America," Torres said. "It's a societal problem and readily available. It's very difficult not to find it around." In addition to past drug use, 10 of the 30 recruits who entered the police academy - and who were put into uniform in time for New Year's Eve duty - had previous law enforcement-related problems that could spell trouble for the department if they ever are repeated.For instance, four of the officers had been arrested at least once: two for assault, one for not paying his child support and the other for driving while intoxicated, records show.Another officer - a seven-year veteran of a suburban Denver department - was fired, then reinstated, after an internal investigation determined he had stolen department records. A review board later cleared him of the specific theft, but suspended him for 30 days. The officer quit the department in 1995 to use a college degree he had earned in physics, records show. Now he's with the Denver Police Department.Johnson's record typified the individual intent on wearing a uniform and badge. He failed 23 different times to get a job on 19 different departments - four of those times in Denver. That was over a fouryear period.But one recruit hired in June 1999 was even more intent on getting a job as a police officer. His application shows he applied - and flunked - at 35 different police agencies in a seven-month period in late 1994. He was finally hired as a patrolman in a small Minnesota town in 1995, records show.Councilman Thomas, a former police officer critical of the commission's practices, said he's disappointed with the current revelations."If these were the people who were hired, I'd like to see those who were rejected," Thomas said. "I think they've lowered the bar so much, it's an embarrassment."Copyright 1999-2000 The Denver Post. Related Articles:Drugs In Past Of Most Cop Cadets - 12/16/99 Cadet in Center of Political Storm - 12/11/99 Use Common For Cop Hopefuls - 12/09/99 
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