CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some have been accused of rape, others pleaded to misdemeanors. One witnessed a savage beating that's sending his partner to prison.
All are still wearing a badge.
Despite a recent rash of incidents of police misconduct, just seven of the nearly 3,500 police officers in West Virginia have lost their certification since the 2005-06 fiscal year.
The state has a high threshold to remove police officers' badges once they're certified, said Chuck Sadler, state law enforcement training coordinator.
"Once they're hired, unless they are convicted of a crime and the committee takes action, they will always carry that certification," Sadler said.
The entity that certifies and decertifies police officers in West Virginia - the Law Enforcement Training Subcommittee of the Governor's Committee on Crime, Delinquency and Corrections - has made the decision to only consider decertifying officers who have been convicted of a jailable offense, said Sadler, who serves as the subcommittee's lone staff member.
Meanwhile, officers who have gotten into trouble, but still hold their certification, are merely switching departments, a Sunday Gazette-Mail investigation has found.
Examples from departments in Kanawha, Fayette, Greenbrier and Summers counties show 11 officers continue to patrol the streets, despite leaving their previous departments under a cloud.
West Virginia is not alone in its problem with police officers moving from department to department after getting into trouble, said Samuel Walker, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Omaha and an expert on police accountability.
"It is believed to be a problem nationwide," he said. "The phrase 'gypsy cops' has come up. There's not any solid research on that. We don't know how common it is."
Some states have begun aggressively decertifying officers, he said.
Since 2006, Florida has decertified 178 officers, about 1 in 280 police officers in the state. The seven West Virginia has decertified in roughly the same time period is about 1 in 500 of the state's 3,500 police officers.
State legislators are starting to take notice.
"It's not commonplace to have bad apples in the law enforcement field," said current state Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. "But they are not immune from having bad apples. And they need to be removed in order to instill public confidence. They need to be dealt with quickly and effectively so that the public has confidence that law enforcement is upholding the law."
A Sunday Gazette-Mail investigation has determined that at least 44 municipal police officers in Kanawha and Fayette counties have worked at multiple departments since 2005. That number is almost certainly higher because not all municipalities in the two counties are accounted for. There are no figures for the other 53 counties in the state.
West Virginia police are almost always investigated by fellow officers. In 120 municipalities across the nation, that's not enough. For more than 30 years, U.S. cities have been setting up civilian review boards to address situations where police otherwise must investigate fellow officers.
"The broader issue here is transparency on public, certified professionals," Walker said. "If an attorney is disbarred it's public record."
There are essentially two parts to holding police officers accountable to the public, Walker said.
"I think civilian review boards are a piece of a larger puzzle in achieving greater accountability," he said. "And you need an agency to look at complaints and other problems and you need a way of [decertifying] officers with a proven record of unsuitability."
Only one officer out of the 11 who left previous departments amid serious allegations is no longer a police officer - Matthew Leavitt, who beat and harassed Twan and Lauren Reynolds in Montgomery.
Leavitt's partner that night, Shawn Hutchinson, has admitted to threatening to arrest his superior officer if he tried to stop Leavitt. He is now an officer in Chesapeake.
In a deposition in the Reynolds civil suit, Hutchinson said then-Montgomery Lt. Joe Burrow was interfering with a lawful arrest because he was a neighbor of the Reynoldses.
That "lawful arrest" included Leavitt hitting Twan Reynolds over the head with a blackjack, kicking him in the back and spraying his eyes with pepper spray at close range.
Leavitt also used a racial epithet and licked Lauren Reynolds on the neck during an interrogation, saying, "Little whore, you like it like that." The Reynolds' 4-year-old daughter witnessed much of the assault.
The Law Enforcement Training Subcommittee has no plans to review Hutchinson's certification, said West Virginia State Police Sgt. Curtis Tilley, chairman of LET and assistant director of training at the State Police training academy.
"That officer [Hutchinson] has not been reviewed based on the guidelines the committee works under," Tilley said. "He was never charged with anything the committee could review. Things subsequent to a lawsuit, civil suit are not within the committee's guidelines."
The committee, whose members include Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford, State Police Col. Timothy Pack and state Human Rights Commission Director Ivin Lee, sets standards for training of police officers, in addition to certifying.
Three officers were decertified in each of the past two years, one in 2007 and none in 2006, Sadler said.
In addition to three decertifications, in 2009 three officers were put on a probationary period and told they would be given back their full certification when certain criteria were met, Sadler said.