How police union contracts make it difficult to investigate, discipline officers accused of misconduct

Video: How police union contracts make it difficult to investigate, discipline officers accused of misconduct

ORLANDO, Fla. — Law enforcement unions are often behind the push to fight disciplining police officers accused of misconduct.

And their union contracts can make it difficult to investigate their actions, even in cases of excessive force.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told Channel 9 investigative reporter Daralene Jones that a review of the Orlando Police Department’s policies and procedures is already underway.

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Changes to the discipline structure in the union contract may have to wait, unless both sides agree to re-open the contract.

The Orlando City Council approved another police union contract in October 2019, with no discussion during the meeting.

“My efforts over the next course of time will be to determine what changes are appropriate in disciplining,” Dyer said.

Some changes were made in the new contract. Records now stay with a suspended or demoted officer between five and seven years. And now the city has more leeway to enhance discipline, depending on the seriousness of the misconduct, repeat offenses and notoriety of the case.

But those officers can still appeal discipline and even termination through grievance and binding arbitration processes.

Jones asked Dyer if he’s willing to take a closer look at that.

“Absolutely, but again it's a series of negotiations with police unions. But I think the circumstances in which we have reasonable discussions it’s going to be a different conversation than it was last year or than it was four years ago, so I think the tone has changed and I think we’ll probably be able to get some stricter provisions,” Dyer said.

In Orlando, if an officer loses a grievance, a labor committee decides whether to represent the officer in arbitration.

Arbitrators come from seven states with a wide range of career backgrounds. Once they rule, the decision is final, unless there is a lawsuit.

The Orlando Police Union president wasn't available to speak on camera but sent Jones a letter delivered to the mayor offering to help with any reviews of policies and procedures.

But he also agrees with what we heard from the union representing deputies and officers in Flagler, Volusia and Brevard counties, a focus on binding arbitration is not the answer.

“That's low-hanging fruit, a short-sighted way to look at it, if we believe in fairness, if we believe that everyone is entitled to due process then the arbitrations—which are done by a third party, someone who is not pre-disposed to any side of a case—are absolutely requiring fairness,” Coastal PBA Director Mike Scudiero said.

Florida Sen. Randolph Bracy wants a review of the officer bill of rights, written into state law, which outlines administrative protections for officers accused of misconduct and more teeth for citizens review boards, which right now have no power to recommend or alter discipline.

“The legislature hasn't done anything. We're not taking no for an answer,” Bracy said.

But lawmakers pushing for change will certainly face opposition.

“The minute you start eroding protections to make it easier to get rid of a bad officer, you’re also effecting good officers, so I think you have to be very careful,” Scudiero said. “Look, the temperature out there is warm because of the climate, around police protests; what I would say is take a deep breath.”

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