Judge rules against city’s new police disciplinary guidelines
Unclear how many cases affected by victory for FOP
An administrative law judge has recommended that the Illinois Labor Relations Board throw out the Chicago Police Department’s new disciplinary guidelines, dealing an early defeat to the city as it attempts to standardize the punishments of an erratic and often toothless police disciplinary system.
The finding in favor of the city’s largest police union, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, determined that the department violated labor law by failing to bargain with the union over the new guidelines.
The recommendation from Administrative Law Judge Anna Hamburg-Gal calls on the state board to force the Police Department to rescind any discipline imposed under the advisory guidelines since they were adopted in February and reassess the punishment to be imposed under the more informal system in place before the guidelines existed. While it is unclear how many cases could be affected, the city closes hundreds of disciplinary cases in a typical month. Through the first five months of this year, for example, the department had closed more than 2,000 disciplinary cases, though historically the department has found misconduct and levied punishment only in a slim percentage of cases.
The recommendation, issued last week, does not carry the force of law, and months will likely pass before the state panel makes its ruling, said the board’s executive director, Kimberly Stevens. The department and union can file briefs in support of their positions on the recommendation in the coming months, and the board’s ruling could lead to further challenges in court.
“This is a great victory for our members,” FOP President Kevin Graham said in a statement on the union’s blog. “The City is obligated to negotiate with us. According to this ruling, they will now have to. We will fight every attempt by the City to make changes without negotiating first.”
Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey voiced disappointment in the recommendation and said the city’s lawyers would challenge it.
“The Chicago Police Department has authority from the collective bargaining agreement to impose discipline, and the disciplinary matrix is designed to provide certainty for officers and serves as a management tool so that recommendations are consistent across the department,” he said in a written statement.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and department officials vowed to overhaul the police disciplinary system in the wake of the scandal sparked nearly two years ago by the release of video of a white police officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. The controversy highlighted the failings of a sluggish disciplinary system that has often levied light punishments or none at all, even when evidence suggested wrongdoing.
Before February, the department had never used standardized punishment guidelines for most disciplinary cases, though experts and panels suggested it for years. The guidelines offer a range of punishments for various common violations, and supervisors are instructed to consider “mitigating factors,” such as an officer’s inexperience or acknowledgment of wrongdoing, as well as “aggravating factors” such as attempts to cover up misconduct.
Along with the Police Department, the city’s new police watchdog agency, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, also uses the guidelines as it makes recommendations for discipline to the department.
The Fraternal Order of Police filed a charge with the labor relations panel, arguing that the new guidelines should have gone through the collective bargaining process that is now ongoing. The union has taken similar action recently in response to new departmental initiatives such as the introduction of body cameras; those cases are pending.
In the case of the disciplinary guidelines, the administrative law judge sided with the union in finding that the department had made a unilateral change to a mandatory subject of bargaining. The city argued that the guidelines resulted in limited change by simply putting in writing the department’s informal process for formulating discipline.
The union challenged the new guidelines before elections in April swept in new FOP leaders who have been vocal in their opposition to the city’s efforts to revamp discipline.