Badge to Badge: Should background checks be required for officers?

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(Originally Posted: 3.22.16)
Every officer in Kansas takes an oath to never betray their badge, their integrity, their character, or the public's trust. But how confident can the public be in an officer who bounces from one badge to another?

"I can't even get a job as a welder like that," said Bill Rose, Halstead resident. "So yeah, it bothers me."

It's an issue that led the Kansas Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training, CPOST, to make changes a few years ago that would improve background checks.

"There would be lots of officers who would be fired, terminated for whatever reason, and they would go to the next county or the next city, or a couple of counties or cities over," said Gary Steed, CPOST Executive Director. "They would be employed there and that agency would have the same issues with the officer and they would be terminated and move on."

We're not just talking about low-ranking officers. FactFinder 12 started researching this problem after we uncovered a similar pattern with the Halstead Police Chief. The KBI opened an investigation into the Halstead Police Department in November. A month later, Chief Steve Lewis suddenly retired. We filed open records requests to look at his history in Kansas law enforcement.

We learned Lewis was first fired from the Hugoton Police Department in 1980. He went to work for Liberal Police Department for two years, followed by the Stevens County Sheriff's Office for 23 years. Lewis left there in 2005 to be the police chief back in Hugoton; the department that previously fired him. After three years there, Hugoton fired him again.

We wanted to know why.

After days of un-returned phone calls, we drove to Hugoton to ask the current police chief why she fired Lewis. She refused to speak with us. We did find Lewis at his new home in Hugoton.