A New York bill dubbed the “Wandering Officer Act” would prohibit officers previously fired or who resigned during an investigation in or out of state from being hired by another agency.
Democratic Senator Brian Benjamin introduced the bill. He said, “I believe police officers should be held to a higher standard because the nature of their power is so great.”
The bill would remedy some of the problems faced by the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department with officers resigning or being fired.
A report in The Daily Gazette described how Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino was forced to fire his stepson Daniel Coppola after he was arrested driving while intoxicated when off-duty.
Dagostino hired Coppola after he left the Schenectady Police Department in 2018 for a similar drinking and driving violation.
The agency has had other issues outside of Coppola as well. Officer Eugene Sellie was fired in November 2020 after allegedly beating an inmate at the county jail to the point where the detainee had to be put on a ventilator.
Another officer, Vincent Stone, was fired following assault charges after resigning from the Rotterdam Police Department following a 2014 domestic-related assault arrest in Schenectady.
The new legislation makes it so officers with a checkered past like this, whether they were previously fired, resigned while criminal charges were pending or left during an ongoing investigation, will not be able to be rehired.
“If you have a bad barber, they don’t cut your hair well — it’s bad, but your hair can grow back, you can figure it out,” Benjamin said. “Bad police, the consequences are far greater. “
Benjamin believes that officers with a problematic history are unfit to work in law enforcement.
“When you’re fired by your own police force that’s usually a sign you should be doing something else,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin is confident the bill will be passed.
“I foresee some grimacing, but I don’t foresee opposition because the premise is too hard to fight,” he said.
Phil Ramos, a retired Long Island police officer, is co-sponsoring the bill in the Assembly, which Benjamin hopes will help convince law enforcement.
Undersheriff James Barrett said that Coppola, who transferred to the department, did not have to take a polygraph test – a test required by new hires but not transfers.
The county Legislature said no concerns have been raised over the sheriff’s handling of instances such as Coppola’s, and believe he treated Coppola the way he treats all officers.
Erin Roberts, the county’s director of public communication said, “Sheriff Dagostino is an independently elected constitutional officer directly answerable to the residents of Schenectady County. That being said, the Sheriff handled this situation exactly as he has previously handled similar situations with other officers.”
Meanwhile, new hiring standards have been established by the Municipal Police Training Council (MPTC), and will be enforced through the Professional Policing Act signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The legislation requires agencies to abide by the new rules.
Kirstan Conley, the deputy director of public information for the Division of Criminal Justice Services, said, “The MPTC will propose regulations for mandatory minimum hiring standards to include: criminal history check; medical, physical and mental health examinations; and a background check to determine good moral character.”
The act also allows for the decertification of officers who have been fired.