In the United States, no one is supposed to be above the law, including those tasked with enforcing it. But unfortunately, government unions in Washington are often able to handcuff local sheriffs attempting to discipline or terminate officers engaged in illegal conduct on the job.
Due to collective bargaining disciplinary provisions, police officers engaged in wrongdoing are able to evade consequences by appealing unsettled grievances to a third-party arbitrator. However, the use of binding arbitration to settle grievance disputes between police unions and sheriffs undermines law enforcement’s ability to maintain public trust.
Despite proof of misconduct, unaccountable arbitrators are returning officers to the line of duty nationwide, impairing the integrity and accountability of the agencies responsible for upholding society’s highest standards.
A Washington officer from the Centralia Police Department was fired in 2011 when investigations uncovered his habit of excessive Tasings, violating protocol and filing dishonest reports. But thanks to the intervention of the police union, the officer’s termination currently hangs in limbo before an arbitrator. If the decision favors the labor union, taxpayers could have to pay the re-employed officer $150,000 in retroactive compensation and $80,000 in legal fees.
The binding decisions of unaccountable arbitrators can have a profound effect on law enforcement’s fragile relationship with the public. Arbitration is supposed to serve as a measure of due process in matters of employee discipline. However, the disregard for internal investigations and department decisions by a third-party does not serve the best interest the community.
As a 1998 case study of police discipline in Chicago observed, “…when an officer, whose misconduct is proven in an internal investigation and whom the superintendent finds is necessary to discipline, nonetheless successfully evades any penalty, citizens may understandably lose confidence in the ability of the police department to control its own personnel.”
Unfortunately, arbitrators across the country prevent police management from terminating bad cops. In 2011 Washington, D.C., arbitrators reinstated 27 formerly dismissed police officers on charges of unofficial moonlighting, inefficacy and lying to investigators. Eighteen of those reversals are up for arbitration once again, after the officers were fired a second time from the same department.
In California, arbitrators reversed multiple termination decisions, reinstating officers found guilty of police misconduct and solicitation of prostitution. Further, an arbitrator reinstated a Bloomington police officer to the Indiana Police Department despite using unwarranted force on a special-needs seven-year-old.
Recently, Spokane County has made headlines as arbitrators have returned to duty multiple officers terminated on the grounds of sex on duty, lying to investigators and falsifying documents. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is now required to rehire the officers, pay substantial legal fees and reimburse the officers’ generous back pay.
Exasperated with these binding decisions, Spokane law enforcement officials have taken their concerns before the State Senate, where reform legislation was twice defeated. Senate Bill 5668 sought to uphold the ethical standards of an officer’s oath by adding circumstances to which an officer’s certification can be denied or revoked. Sheriffs and police chiefs nationwide publically supported the bill.
In a recent “Freedom Daily” interview, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich explained the consequences of the deputies’ union resistance to reforming the grievance process. “The public trust is all that law enforcement has,” he said. “The minute that law enforcement loses the public trust, we have lost all.
“We cannot have deputies committing crimes on duty, we cannot have them lying,” Knezovich continued. “These things have to be changed. We have the power to take your freedom. We can do that with the reports that we write and under certain circumstances, we can take your life. And you’re telling me you don’t want us held to the highest standards as possible?”
Listen to the whole interview here.