[News] 'It makes it very difficult to fire them': police union contracts protect bad officers, critics warn

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 30 15:55:22 EDT 2020

makes it very difficult to fire them': police union contracts protect bad
officers, critics warn
Tom Perkins - June 30, 2020

A court in 2009 convicted Washington DC police officer Michael Sugg-Edwards
of sexually assaulting a teenage woman in his squad car. After conducting
its own internal investigation, the department quickly fired the then
35-year-old officer.

But, six years later, Sugg-Edwards was back on the force. A provision in
the police union’s contract allowed him to appeal against the decision to a
union-selected arbitrator who reversed the department’s firing and
<https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3912331-Suggedwards-2.html> him –
with back pay.

Such protections for officers who commit crimes are not unique to
Washington. About 475 police union contracts at the nation’s largest
departments hold similar arbitration provisions, according to a 2019 Loyola
University study
Those are accompanied by a startling array of other complex protections
that shield officers accused of often violent misconduct from

It all builds up to form a picture of how police contracts – which, like
other labor contracts, govern the working conditions under which officers
operate – have rendered police departments’ disciplinary and oversight
processes ineffective as officers are rarely held accountable for
wrongdoing. That then encourages the police violence that sparked the
massive nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by a
white police officer in Minneapolis.

“These [contract provisions] tie the hands of police chiefs and others who
are trying to hold police officers accountable,” said Carl Takei, an ACLU
senior staff attorney focused on police practices. “It makes it very
difficult to fire or discipline officers who engage in misconduct.”

The protections’ impact on officer accountability is documented in a
growing body of empirical studies and analyses. Nearly 90% of contracts at
178 midsize-to-large departments have at least one “problematic provision”
that “could thwart legitimate disciplinary actions against officers engaged
in misconduct,,” Loyola policing scholar Stephen Rushin wrote
in a 2017 study of contracts and police bills of rights.

Among police-friendly provisions that Rushin and Campaign Zero
<https://www.checkthepolice.org/#review>, an activist group that tracks
police union contracts, identified in separate analyses
of over 650 departments:

• 137 police agencies prohibit investigators from interrogating officers
immediately after an incident. Louisiana’s bill of rights grants officers
30 days, while Chicago officers are provided 48 hours.

• 184 jurisdictions allow officers to review evidence against them before
being interrogated.

• 47 agencies require expungement of police misconduct records, in some
cases after as little as two years. Others entirely shield disciplinary
records from the public.

• 74 departments don’t allow an officer’s misconduct history to be
considered in future cases.

• At least 40 departments require taxpayers to cover an officer’s defense

Rushin said the protections’ impact is clear: “We have definitely made a
lot of collective bargaining concessions at a substantial number of
departments that can make it extremely difficult to hold police officers

That’s illustrated in the Floyd case. The Minneapolis police department
contract and Minnesota police of bill of rights helped protect officer
Derek Chauvin, who, before killing Floyd by kneeling on his neck, had been
investigated by internal affairs at least 17 times since 2001.

Per the union contract and bill of rights, the department erases exonerated
or unsubstantiated misconduct records; delays interviews for 48 hours after
an incident; prohibits meaningful civilian review boards; grants officers
access to some evidence in an investigation; allows disciplinary action to
be overturned by an arbitrator; and requires the public to pay for an
officer’s defense.

Even amid intense public outcry, most details of previous complaints
against Chauvin remain hidden from the public

A recent study
strongly suggests contractual protections increase violent behavior among
officers. It examined violent misconduct records after a 2003 Florida
supreme court ruling that allowed the state’s sheriff’s departments to
unionize. City departments already had collective bargaining rights, so the
study compared violent incidents at the two types of departments.

It found a 40% increase in violence – like assault and excessive force – at
the sheriff’s departments and no increase at the city departments.

“We really think what’s driving this is decreased deterrence of wrongdoing
from collective bargaining, and that’s a really significant part of the
policing story,” said John Rappaport, one of its authors and a policing
scholar at the University of Chicago Law School.

Officers may feel safe committing crimes because data suggests that those
who engage in misconduct are rarely disciplined internally.

A Chicago police review taskforce
found only 7% of complaints resulted during a four-year period in
disciplinary action, and arbitrators reversed or reduced punishments in 73%
of those cases. The report stated that collective bargaining agreements
“provide an unfair advantage to officers” and “have essentially turned the
code of silence into official policy”.

The officer who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in the back escaped discipline
in more than 20 complaints against him for excessive force. The Chicago
police contract offers a range of protections from delaying interrogations
to arbitration. Meanwhile, a Washington Post investigation
of large departments found more than 450 out of nearly 2,000 officers fired
for wrongdoing were reinstated, despite committing often violent crimes.

In San Antonio, an officer fired twice
for challenging handcuffed suspects to fight him for their freedom was
reinstated by an arbitrator both times. A second San Antonio officer who
engaged in unauthorized car chases was also reinstated twice
In Columbus and Oklahoma, officers who kicked
men in the head were rehired.

Cities made many of the disciplinary concessions to unions in lieu of pay
increases during the 1980s when municipal tax revenue was tight. Unions
won’t give up those protections, Rushin said, which leaves it to
politicians to enact change.

He noted state lawmakers can force transparency by opening the collective
bargaining process. In Washington, legislation approved this month
takes away the union’s ability to negotiate disciplinary processes and
gives that authority to the police chief and mayor, the DC council
chairman, Phil Mendelson, told the Guardian.

“When police have the ability to kill somebody, the disciplinary process
should not be bargained for,” he said. “When the police have the ability to
take away liberty, the police should not be policing themselves.”
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