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In law enforcement, the phrase gypsy cop is slang for a police officer who frequently transfers between police departments, often because of misconduct or poor job performance. This is in comparison with the propensity of the gypsies.
Some smaller agencies often have an easier hiring process, involving only a brief interview with the mayor or chief and then a limited background investigation (fingerprint and criminal record checks), drug screen test, and physical exam. Major municipal, state and federal law enforcement agencies may have a competitive waiting list for applicants that requires a written aptitude examination with a minimum score that is given only a few times a year. These agencies generally also have a hiring process that can take 6-12 months, and can disqualify a candidate at any step in the process. This may include a credit history check, an exhaustive criminal and personal background check going back to age 16, psychological screening, polygraph, physical strength and agility testing and a comprehensive interview panel. In some cases, even already certified officers are required to redo basic law enforcement training, either partly or in full, followed by a 3-6 month field training program, with a certified, veteran field training officer. Officers with a history of moving from agency to agency, especially in short or frequent intervals, are closely scrutinized and often rejected as applicants in larger agencies for the very reason of moving around too much, an indicator of a lack of stable work history. Inversely, some smaller agencies in affluent communities, may be more difficult to obtain employment with and may experience very little turnover.
Gypsy cops usually move from agency to agency as lateral transfers, or law enforcement officers that have already been trained and certified. Lateral transfers are often preferred over new recruits due to a simplified hiring process. Some smaller agencies knowingly hire gypsy cops because they have difficulty in recruiting quality officers because of less desirable situations such as lower pay, substandard equipment, limited training and growth potential, less exciting police activity and even less prestige. The vacancy of even one officer in a small agency of 5-10 officers or less can create substantial hardships on an agency that must provide 24-hour coverage to the community it serves. Problem officers are often allowed to resign in seemingly good standing and then go to another unsuspecting agency with a good recommendation from a previous chief or sheriff, who is eager to get rid of the problem officer. Many regulatory agencies are never made aware of problem officers, or have limited means to investigate or sanction due to the reluctance of many agency heads to report problem officers. While such gypsy officers may be unsuited to serve in law enforcement, they often are undetected outside of their agency or have not engaged in serious enough misconduct to justify termination or decertification. In other cases, small communities with limited budgets and legal resources may be hesitant to terminate a problem officer out of fear of a lawsuit for wrongful termination or hostile workplace. Gypsy cops may be experienced in knowing how to threaten and intimidate agencies and communities with costly and unflattering allegations and litigation. They will often negotiate a positive departure from an agency once they reach critical mass and are facing dismissal. Most states have a consolidated retirement system for state, county and municipal peace officers, which is unaffected by transfers between agencies so long as continued employment occurs and can thus further provide incentive for both good and bad officers to move frequently between agencies. This is how gypsy cops can stay one step ahead of discipline and termination. Gypsy cops have avoided scrutiny in large states such as Texas and Alaska by moving hundreds of miles away when moving to another agency. In response to this scenario, Texas, Alaska and other states have tightened mandatory administrative standards to monitor and sanction gypsy cops in recent years.
History of the term
The phrase entered public parlance after the infamous Tulia drug stings, where itinerant lawman Tom Coleman allegedly set up innocent people, most of them black, as part of a long-term undercover operation. Several other high-profile cases in states including Texas and Alaska involved officers who served with adversity in close to 20 agencies in 15 years or less, yet they continued to evade administrative action as they went from agency to agency, sometimes serving as little as 30 days at one department, despite blatant misconduct and compelling signs of unsuitability to serve as peace officers. Police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement agency heads often privately jokingly refer to the practice of giving a bad or problem officer a good recommendation to get rid of him or her as "pass the trash". Some dictionaries recommend avoiding use of the word gypsy as a modifier with negative connotations, because such use could be considered a slur against the Romani people.
- The new Partridge dictionary of slang and unconventional English (Reprint. ed.). London [u.a.]: Routledge. 2007. p. 943. ISBN 0415259371.
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- Merriam-Webster's pocket guide to English usage. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. 1998. p. 178. ISBN 0877795142.
- Garner, Bryan A. (2009). Garner's modern American usage (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 405. ISBN 0195382757.
- Baskin, [by] H.E. Wedeck with the assistance of Wade. Dictionary of gypsy life and lore. New York: Philosophical Library. ISBN 0806529857.
- Garner, Bryan A. A dictionary of modern legal usage (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 400. ISBN 0195384202.
- Dictionary of race, ethnicity and culture (1. publ., [Nachdr.]. ed.). London: Sage. 2002. p. 291. ISBN 0761969004.
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