Police Abuse

More Obstacles to Prosecuting Police Misconduct Revealed in Police Union Contracts

Black Lives Matter's Campaign Zero project releases new analysis of contracts and police bills of rights.


He can get witnesses' addresses.
DonkeyHotey/Flickr/Louise Macabitas

Black Lives Matter's Campaign Zero project has released a new analysis and interactive data visualization project based on information obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests into the police union contracts of 81 of the U.S.' 100 largest cities, as well as the "police bill of rights" enumerated in the 14 states where such laws exist.

The authors of the report wrote, "Working with legal experts, advocates, and academics with an expertise in this area, six major areas are identified wherein these contracts and bills of rights contribute to making it more difficult to hold police accountable for misconduct."

Among the study's findings:

25 cities and 4 states disqualify certain complaints from being investigated or resulting in discipline, for example if they are submitted too many days after an incident occurs or if an investigation takes too long to complete.

As an example, the Columbus PD requires a written complaint to the city within 60 days of any alleged misconduct or the complaint will not be investigated.

Regarding police interrogations:

50 cities and 13 states restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place.

The study cites Louisiana's Police Bill of Rights permitting officers to delay interrogations for up to 30 days. Officers are also often granted access to information prior to interrogations that would be unthinkable for ordinary citizens. For example, the Wichita PD's union contract allows officers to have "access to the names and addresses of complainants prior to an interrogation," and Florida's Police Bill of Rights permits officers to review all evidence (including audio and video) which could be used against them before they are interrogated.

When it comes to disciplining police misconduct, "64 cities and 7 states limit disciplinary consequences for officers, for example preventing an officer's history of past misconduct from being considered in future cases, and/or limit the capacity of civilian oversight structures or the broader public to hold police accountable." Additionally, Austin's police union contract forbids "Civilian Oversight" from exercising subpoena power.

Transparency is stymied by 43 cities and 3 states, which "erase records of misconduct, in some cases erasing records after 2 years or less." Cleveland's police union contract requires officers' "disciplinary actions or penalties" to be "removed after two years from the date the discipline was administered."

You can read my recent (and at times contentious) interview with Black Lives Matter organizer DeRay McKesson here, as well as other Reason coverage of BLM's efforts to bring transparency to police use-of-force policies and earlier reports on police union contracts.