‘They get chance after chance’: How police officers accused of bad behavior can get their jobs back after they resign

It's a phrase you hear often in reports about officers being investigated by their own agencies: the officer resigned before he or she was disciplined.

It’s a phrase you hear often in reports about officers being investigated by their own agencies: the officer resigned before he or she was disciplined.

9 Investigates wanted to know how often it happens statewide, and how many of those officers move on to other agencies. Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray found most officers who quit under these circumstances have not gone back to work, at least yet.

Four years ago, then-Seminole County deputy Michael O’Connor was caught on camera, threatening a man in handcuffs in the back of his patrol car, and then punching that man in the face.

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O’Connor resigned before he could be investigated or disciplined by SCSO, and then went through a diversion program on battery charges. The state took no action against his law enforcement certification, and he’s now a sergeant at the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office in the panhandle.

“Police officers are allowed to go from department to department, and they get chance after chance after chance,” said Chuck Drago, certified law enforcement expert and former police chief.

Drago said it usually takes a felony, or perjury, for an officer to lose certification. Those decisions are made by the state’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission.

“There are some offenses where they will lose their license really quickly, but there has to be a balance as to what is the danger to the community,” Drago said.

We crunched data that shows of more than 2,000 officers who resigned or retired while under investigation over the last six years, the board has revoked 400 certifications. More than 270 officers gave up their credentials voluntarily.

The majority, nearly 1,200, are simply not working in law enforcement at this time. Around 100, though, have moved on to other agencies.

That includes Edgewater officer Andrew Spurlock. Eyewitness News reported last year when he was suspended after being warned or disciplined by the agency 10 times in two years. FDLE data shows he resigned from his former agency, Ormond Beach Police Department, while being investigated for lying about missing evidence.

Two Brevard County deputies on the list, both arrested for driving under the influence, were able to get rehired by the same agency after going through the court process.

“There's a shortage of police candidates today, so what might not have been overlooked before, today they will get more chances,” Drago said. “There's nobody waiting in the wings to take their spot.”

Ray reached out to the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office about O’Connor, and a lieutenant said background screening and polygraph examinations are required for all law enforcement personnel at the agency.

The department sent the following statement to Channel 9:

“Michael O’Connor started his service with TCSO as a deputy, and has since been promoted to the rank of sergeant. O’Connor also currently serves as our Field Training Coordinator. O’Connor’s work performance has been nothing but exemplary since his employment began with Taylor County Sheriff’s Office, and he has received no complaints from the public or his coworkers.”

Edgewater Police Chief Joe Mahoney said in an email that the city of Edgewater Police Department follows a progressive discipline model to determine disciplinary actions.

“The department is comprised of hard-working, professional men and women who truly care about the community they serve. They perform an often-dangerous job to ensure the city remains a safe place to live and visit,” Mahoney wrote.

Many of the 2,200 officers on the list of resignations or retirements over the last six years are still going through the discipline process, which can take years.