Police Reform Part 4: People support police system reform
It should be understood there is no sure way to end police violence and no one formula works. But a widely agreed set of practices like more training, ending militarization,…
I have written before about all the ways through which police officers are able to evade accountability. One of these ways is through binding arbitration. The state of Minnesota has a binding arbitration clause in its contract that requires government employers to allow all disciplines to be appealed to binding arbitration.
Being able to appeal is a good thing for anyone fired wrongly. But arbitration usually ends up helping cops who have been fired for egregious behavior. By appealing to labor rights instead of public safety, unions are able to place excessive proof of burden on police departments to prove their employees are unfit for a job.
It was in October 2015 that a white Richfield police officer was captured on video striking a Somali American teenager in the head. Officer Nate Kinsey, who had previously been disciplined for how he used force, was fired over the incident.
But in Minnesota, public employees, including police officers can appeal discipline to an independent arbitrator. The arbitrator in Kinsey’s case changed his termination to a three-day suspension. The city and police union fought it out all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled that Kinsey should get his job back. He’s currently a Richfield police officer.
According to the charter of the Minneapolis city, the mayor has the authority “to make all rules and regulations” for police. Under the current system, a key aspect of police reform efforts — disciplinary matters — are handled by the police chief, a position hired by the mayor that’s approved by the council every three years. Yet disciplinary decisions are finalized after binding arbitration, which regularly reverses firings and other punishment.
During the arbitration process, each party (the union and employer) are able to approve arbitrators from a random list of qualified arbitrators that they are provided. The job of the arbitrators is then to decide whether the employer, depending on the evidence they have brought, gave a just discipline sentence. Arbitrators only rule on information that they are presented with by either party.
Since 2013, independent arbitrators in Minnesota have ruled about half the time that police officers who were terminated should get their jobs back or receive lesser discipline, according to data from the state Bureau of Mediation Services, which administers the arbitration process.
Officers who got their jobs back include a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy accused of beating his K-9 dog and a Sauk Rapids, Minn., officer who used a Taser in what the agency notes was a “troubling investigation.” Arbitrators upheld firings in cases where officers were accused of drug possession or pointed a gun at other officers.
There are possible cases of officers who were fired wrongly and therefore deserved to be reinstated. But the fact that officers who committed objectively egregious crimes are also always in the mix getting reinstated points to a big problem with the arbitration system.