“I could hire and fire at will.”
Adlai Stevenson III, calling for a return to how things worked when he was Illinois Treasurer from 1967 – 1970.
By: Mark Glennon*
Twelve months ago, the City of Chicago received a 70-page independent report on police misconduct with recommendations for changes. The lead authors were Ron Safer, Managing Partner at the Schiff Harden and formerly Chief of the Criminal Division at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago, and James O’Keefe, Ph.D., of A.T. Kearney. Titled, “Preventing and Disciplining Police Misconduct,” the study addressed procedures intended both to prevent and discipline police misconduct, including the “code of silence” often alleged to exist among officers. It got little notice.
Notable in the report is how much blame is placed on union collective bargaining agreements that obstruct the city’s ability to discipline and fire police officers for misconduct. While some of the study’s recommendations were implemented, others were not, and union-negotiated agreements continue to hinder the city’s ability to discipline or fire bad cops.
“The City’s collective bargaining agreements with the unions of Department members limit the ways in which misconduct may be investigated and disciplined,” the report says in its introduction, and details about those ways run throughout the report. It says collective bargaining agreements dictate how things work. “Traditionally these options have afforded officers an opportunity to significantly delay or prevent implementation of punishment.” The average case took 1,029 day to reach a final disposition following the filing of a grievance, the report says.
Important progress was made during the course of study toward remedying some of the deficiencies identified, says the report, but Safer, its lead author, says he heard nothing whatsoever from the city since it was filed. This week Safer told an ABC Chicago reporter that police have no method to re-educate officers found in violation of department rules. They merely punish them, if they can get the investigation that far. “It’s unfathomable,” Safer said. “You cannot have education-based discipline under the current collective bargaining agreement.”
Perhaps most importantly, in light of recent Chicago events, the report strongly recommended firing any officer who covers up wrongdoing by another officer. Allegations of police cover-up should be an exception to the usual approach, the report recommended. “This is one area in which the benefits of certainty are so pronounced that there should be little room for flexibility.” The report went on to say:
By putting police on notice that any officer who intentionally deceives investigators, or who deliberately withholds information from them, to cover up for a fellow officer runs the risk of sacrificing his job, we believe that officers will be incentivized to be forthcoming during misconduct investigations, rather than hide behind an actual or perceived “code of silence.”
There’s nothing in anything I can find indicating that recommendation was implemented, and the “code of silence” clearly prevailed after the Laquan McDonald murder.
Thank union collective bargaining contracts for the difficulty of firing bad apples, and that plagues not just the Chicago Police Department but all of Illinois and its municipalities. Two years ago, former U.S. Senator Adlai Stevenson wrote about how to reform Illinois government. He served as Illinois Treasurer from 1967 to 1970. He wrote, “It goes against the grain of conventional wisdom, but when I was state treasurer, I could hire and fire at will.”
That’s how the private sector works and that’s how all government should work.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.