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Kansas police who lose their law enforcement license for misconduct can still work in jails

 The barbed wire fence around the Shawnee County jail
Blaise Mesa
Kansas News Service
The Shawnee County jail doesn't have a policy preventing them from hiring decertified police officers.

One former Lawrence Police Officer was charged with a crime after pinning his wife to the couch during an argument. He lost his job, but then found work at a jail.

TOPEKA, Kansas — In 2018, former Lawrence Police Officer Sutagee Anglin got into an argument with his wife, and she was worried he was going to become more violent.

She tried calling her daughter, hoping she and the two children in the home could get picked up and driven away from the situation, documents from the officer licensing board say. But that’s when Anglin took the phone out of her hand and held her against the couch so she couldn’t leave.

The incident would cost him his job as a police officer, but his career in the criminal justice system wasn’t over.

In December 2020, Anglin got a job as a corrections officer at the Shawnee County Jail making over $60,000 a year. That came over a year after the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training took away his law enforcement certification.

Former police officers can get these jobs because the system that licenses officers doesn’t oversee workers in jails and prisons. Those workers don’t need a license and some hiring requirements are left to the facilities. Advocates for criminal justice reform say that lets problematic people continue to stay in the criminal justice system.

The Shawnee County Department of Corrections said it doesn’t have a policy against hiring decertified police.

“All respective applicants go through the same hiring process,” said Brian Cole, director of the Shawnee County Department of Corrections over email.

 A sign that says "Heros work here" inside the Shawnee County jail
Blaise Mesa
Kansas News Service

In Kansas, the hiring process for police officers has a few more steps than it does for hiring corrections officers. Both are subject to background checks and a felony conviction could get them disqualified from the job.

But police agencies have access to someone’s personnel files at previous departments. State law says one police department can call another to see a candidate's disciplinary record or job application materials, which can include psychological evaluations. Once past that step, departments will send a hiring form to the Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to confirm that the candidate is eligible for the job.

Executive Director Doug Schroeder calls the commission the gatekeeper to law enforcement.

Some correctional facilities say they’d never hire a decertified police officer. Other people said the jobs are different enough — and if properly supervised — they could see a path for those former officers to work.

Lauren Bonds, executive director of the National Police Accountability Project, sees it differently. She said police forces have been under scrutiny since the 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis officers. But it’s not the same for people working in jails and prisons “despite them doing very similar work, having a lot of really similar issues and needing a lot of the same reforms,” Bonds said.

Bonds said police and corrections officers should have the same hiring standards. Jails are run by the local sheriff's office, which already require certification of deputies. She said it shouldn’t be that much harder to add corrections officers to the list.

Bonds said people can change and they shouldn’t be defined by past mistakes, but jobs in the criminal justice system are different.

“The National Police Accountability Project — we’re for criminal legal system reform and restorative justice and people getting second chances, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “But I do think that stakes are so high when it comes to law enforcement and people in these positions.”

About half the states in the country have some type of corrections officer certification.

The Kansas Legislature recently gave law enforcement agencies more access to materials in the hiring process, allowing more document sharing between departments.

Rep. Stephen Owens, the Republican chair of the Kansas House corrections committee, worked on that legislation. He said recent bills have focused on law enforcement agencies to improve screening when hiring officers.

Owens hasn’t heard about similar problems in jails and prisons and the state doesn’t track data on how many decertified police officers end up working in jails or prisons.

“We did this for law enforcement because it was an issue with examples of failures,” Owens said over email. “I don't know if the same failures exist on the detention side, but if it does, I would welcome the conversation.”

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can email him at blaise@kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Blaise Mesa is based in Topeka, where he covers the Legislature and state government for the Kansas City Beacon. He previously covered social services and criminal justice for the Kansas News Service.
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