Tarrant County constables’ precincts have hired 10 law enforcement officers with a history of alleged misconduct during the past decade, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan public policy organization Texas 2036.
When officers separate from their department, either through resignation, firing or retirement, the chief of police fills out a F-5 form, which outlines the circumstances surrounding their departure. There are three options: honorable discharge, general discharge, and dishonorable discharge. Officers who receive a less than honorable discharge and then go on to work at another law enforcement agency have been dubbed “wandering officers” by scholars in the field.
Texas 2036 obtained data on F-5s and the rehiring of dishonorably discharged officers (who left their previous agency because of allegations of criminal misconduct, insubordination or untruthfulness) through public information requests, and published its general findings in a 90-page report. The report published as the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission was finalizing its own staff report on the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, including how the organization handles F-5 reports.
Texas 2036 then shared granular, county-wide data for Tarrant County with the Fort Worth Report. From 2012 to 2022, the data shows, Tarrant County law enforcement departments rehired 23 officers with a dishonorable discharge from earlier in their career. Almost half of those hires were made by Tarrant County constables. Across eight precincts, Tarrant County’s constables employ 122 officers.
“These smaller agencies don’t have the resources or the applicant pool to make better hiring decisions,” said Luis Soberon, a Texas 2036 policy adviser covering justice and safety issues. “It could be slim pickins at these agencies, relatively speaking.”
The department with the second-highest number of dishonorably discharged hires was Lakeside Police Department (3), a town of about 2,200 in the northwest corner of Tarrant County, followed by the University of North Texas Health and Science Center (2).
The Fort Worth Police Department, which employs the largest number of peace officers in the county at 1,685, did not hire any officers with a dishonorable discharge on their record. Soberon said that’s likely because the department has the resources to dedicate to young officers.
“They’re most likely just hiring straight out of the academy as opposed to hiring officers from other agencies,” Soberon said.
The identities of dishonorably discharged officers are not released publicly, nor are complete F-5 forms. If officers appeal their discharge type, a record of that appeal is available online, but it does not include any details about the discharge itself except whether the appeal is successful. And if a law enforcement agency doesn’t show up to defend its F-5 filing — a costly and time- consuming process — the officer’s appeal will be granted automatically.
“There’s also maybe not a compelling reason to defend the discharge against a former employee,” Soberon said. “You know what I’ve heard anecdotally from chiefs was, ‘My top concern is getting them out of my department. Once they’re out of my department, once they’re not serving my community anymore, my job is done.’”
A review of F-5 appeal cases by the Report found 18 appeals from former Fort Worth Police Department officers from 2020 to 2022. Among them was an appeal from Aaron Dean, who is on trial for the on-duty killing of Atatiana Jefferson, whom he shot through the window of her own home in 2019. That appeal is currently on hold as his criminal trial progresses.
What types of discharges are marked on F-5 reports?
- Retired, resigned, or separated from employment with or died while employed by a law enforcement agency while in good standing and not because of pending or final disciplinary actions or a documented performance problem.
- Was terminated by, retired or resigned from, or died while in the employed of a law enforcement agency and the separation was related to a disciplinary investigation of conduct that is not included in the definition of dishonorably discharged; or
- Was terminated by or retired or resigned from a law enforcement agency and the separation was for a documented performance problem and was not because of a reduction in workforce or an at-will employment decision.
- Was terminated, by a law enforcement agency or retired or resigned in lieu of termination by the agency in relation to allegations of criminal misconduct; or
- Was terminated, by a law enforcement agency or retired or resigned in lieu of termination by the agency for insubordination or untruthfulness.
The lack of transparency around F-5s and appeals contributes to the wandering officer problem, Soberon said, and keeps the public in the dark about the history of officers in their community. After two dishonorable discharges, an officer can lose their license, but there have been only 14 license revocations in the state during the past five years.
The Police Executive Research Forum conducted a 2021 survey of almost 200 law enforcement agencies, and found a slight decrease in the hiring rate coincided with a large increase in resignations and retirements. Agencies lamented the difficulty of hiring officers, and Texas 2036 speculated that difficulty could contribute to wandering officers securing jobs with a desperate agency even after a dishonorable discharge.
Among the questions posed in the Sunset Advisory Commission’s staff report is whether the F-5 report process needs to be reformed. Staff recommended creating a blue ribbon panel on law enforcement professionalism to “comprehensively evaluate and make recommendations on the needed professional standards for law enforcement in Texas.”
The panel, staff members wrote, would be focused on professional conduct standards, licensee training and education requirements, and ensuring the professionalism of licensees and law enforcement agencies
One of the key guiding questions proposed for the panel: Are any changes needed to the F-5 process?
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.