Police Unions vs. Police Accountability

Policy

Daniel DiSalvo of the Manhattan Institute has a useful report out today. One of the most important sections details how various job protections won by police unions make it harder to investigate and punish police brutality:

The protections, whether in contractual provisions or state statutes, govern officer discipline and misconduct. These measures come in three forms.

The first form details the steps required to investigate an officer accused of misconduct. These provisions sometimes begin by stipulating the way a complaint against an officer must be formally filed. They further dictate when and where an officer can be interviewed, by whom, and with whom present. Many contracts contain rights to notice of charges, legal representation, a hearing, and a right to appeal, among other things. . . .

Second, CBAs [collective-bargaining agreements] allow—or sometimes require—the deletion of officers’ records of past disciplinary actions or accusations of misconduct. Baltimore’s most recent CBA states that an accused officer “may request expungement of such matter from any file containing the record of the formal complaint” three years after a complaint is “not sustained” or after the officer is exonerated.

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Third, grievance and arbitration rules spell out how an officer (and his union representative) can challenge an adverse personnel action by a superior—including reassignment, suspension, transfer, or firing. If a sergeant disciplines an officer, the officer or his union representative can appeal to a lieutenant, and so on, up the chain of command. If the matter remains unsettled, it can be appealed to binding arbitration.

In addition to, or sometimes in lieu of, contractual rights, some police unions have used political muscle to enshrine job protections in state law. Sixteen states have enacted a Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBRs). . . .

LEOBRs contain many reasonable provisions, including prohibitions on threats, harassment, or promised rewards to induce officers to answer questions, as well as rights to a hearing with the assistance of counsel. But other provisions in these statutes are less reasonable impediments to accountability. For instance, Samuel Walker (University of Nebraska criminologist) and Kevin Keenan (Vera Institute) found that some LEOBRs delay interrogation of those involved in alleged misconduct.

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