Police departments are often forced to rehire bad officers because of union contracts

The Washington Post has an interesting story today about how police departments around the country are often forced to rehire police officers who have been fired for misbehavior thanks to union contract rules.

Since there is no central database of information on police firings, the Post sent records requests to the 55 largest police departments in the country. Thirty-seven departments responded to the requests. Since 2006, those 37 departments had fired 1,881 officers. But in 451 cases, 24% of the time, the departments were later forced to rehire those same officers. From the Post:

Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses.

A San Antonio police officer caught on a dash cam challenging a handcuffed man to fight him for the chance to be released was reinstated in February. In the District, an officer convicted of sexually abusing a young woman in his patrol carwas ordered returned to the force in 2015. And in Boston, an officer was returned to work in 2012 despite being accused of lying, drunkenness and driving a suspected gunman from the scene of a nightclub killing…

In the District, police were told to rehire an officer who allegedly forged prosecutors’ signatures on court documents. In Texas, police had to reinstate an officer who was investigated for shooting up the truck driven by his ex-girlfriend’s new man. In Philadelphia, police were compelled to reinstate an officer despite viral video of him striking a woman in the face. In Florida, police were ordered to reinstate an officer fired for fatally shooting an unarmed man.

Each of those links goes to a detailed story about an officer who was fired and later rehired. As an example, here’s the case of Michael Blaise Sugg-Edwards:

On Nov. 16, 2007, Sugg-Edwards was on patrol when he saw a 19-year-old woman dressed all in white walking alone near Love, a now-closed warehouse nightclub off New York Avenue in Northeast, court records show.

The woman was there to celebrate her 19th birthday with friends but had to go back to a friend’s car because she needed her identification to enter the club.

Sugg-Edwards pulled up in his marked patrol car. He allegedly told the woman that a club supervisor had sent him to escort her safely to her friend’s car and invited her to get into the patrol car, according to court records.

She said that once she was in his vehicle, he drove to a gas station and parked between two tractor trailers. Sugg-Edwards asked her, “What are you trying to do to get into the club?” she told police, adding that he began touching her thigh, genitals and breasts.

The woman got out of the car and immediately reported to assault to two off-duty officers who later reported she had been crying. There was video of her getting out of the car. Sugg-Edwards admitted to picking her up but claimed he didn’t assault her. He was eventually convicted of misdemeanor sexual abuse at which point the police chief recommended to the trial board that he be fired. After hearing from other officers, the trial board decided a reprimand would be sufficient. The department fired Sugg-Edwards anyway.

That was in 2009, nearly two years after the sexual abuse. The union appealed Sugg-Edwards firing and five years later, in January 2015, an arbitrator decided the union was right in their contention that the department could not take harsher action than was recommended by the trial board. Sugg-Edwards would have to be reinstated. The police department is now suing in court to prevent Sugg-Edwards from getting his job back.

Charles H. Ramsey, the former police commissioner of Philadelphia, tells the Post, “It’s demoralizing to the rank and file who really don’t want to have those kinds of people in their ranks.” He adds, “It causes a tremendous amount of anxiety in the public. Our credibility is shot whenever these things happen.”