Three-member police trial boards would be abolished and the D.C. police department's internal disciplinary procedures completely overhauled under terms of a new labor contract negotiated this week by the District government and the police union.
Officers who are disciplined would be protected from arbitrary reassignment, would retain their rights to take promotion examinations and would have the right to appeal their cases outside the police department, according to Larry Simons, president of D.C. Local 442 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers (IBPO).
Simons said at a press conference yesterday that the trial boards "have been kangaroo courts for years." Their abolition and other modifications of disciplinary procedures will enhance prospects for ratification of the three-year agreement by the rank and file, he said, even though the contract provides no general salary increases for the first two years.
Simons and Donald Weinberg, chief labor negotiator for the city government, confirmed that the contract provides, instead of salary increases, lump-sum bonus payments totaling $2800 over two years for about 3,300 police officers of the rank of sergeant and below.
That arrangement benefits the police, Simons said, because "it puts cash in their pockets." It benefits the city, Weinberg said, because the bonus payments give more money to workers without requiring increases in overtime or holiday pay or in pension contributions, which are based on salaries. Weinberg estimated the total cost to the District of the bonus payments and additional health care benefits in the contract at $5.5 million in the first year.
Simons acknowledged that IBPO negotiators got less money than they wanted and did not get shift differentials for night work, premiums for Sunday work or compression of the 16-year period required to reach the top of the salary scale. But he said the bonus payments and increased health-care coverage made the contract "a good agreement." He characterized the new programs on discipline as the best for the rank and file of any big-city police department in the country.
Under the present system, accusations of serious misconduct by police officers are considered by three-member trial boards, which are similar to military courts-martial. The trial boards may impose fines, suspensions or dismissal from the force. The only appeal is to the mayor, who generally upholds the boards' findings.
Simons and police chief-designate Maurice Turner said that under the new system, charges would be considered by a single reviewing officer. The officer could impose punishment up to suspension without pay or even dismissal, but the accused would have the right to appeal to the District's Office of Employee Appeals or to an outside arbitrator.
"For the first time, we got the right to go outside the department to defend ourselves," an IBPO negotiator said.
Simons predicted that the contract, a landmark as the first labor agreement negotiated by the home-rule District government under the new Merit Personnel Act, would be overwhelmingly ratified when it is put a vote, probably late next week.
His assessment was disputed by representatives of two other organizations that are challenging IBPO's position as the authorized representative of the police. Officials of the Fraternal Order of Police called it a "sellout" of the rank and file for the benefit of the IBPO, which they said traded economic gains for provisions strengthening the union.
Douglas Carnival attorney for the Police Association, which claims about 600 members on the police force, called the contract "a complete sweetheart deal." He said "something is fishy" about the bonus-payment plan, and he predicted that the contract would be rejected.
Weinberg, the city's labor relations director, said that if it is rejected, negotiations will be resumed.