Pittsburgh’s contract with its police has a lot to say about officer discipline. Here are the highlights.

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The caption of an arbitration decision handed down on Jan. 9, 2020, which governs relations between the city of Pittsburgh and the Fraternal Order of Police.

The caption of an arbitration decision handed down on Jan. 9, 2020, which governs relations between the City of Pittsburgh and the Fraternal Order of Police.

The Allegheny County Black Activist/Organizer Collective demanded a dozen changes in policing policy, budgeting and staffing on Monday, June 15.

The City of Pittsburgh's interactions with its roughly 900 police officers are governed by an arbitration decision handed down in January. That 30-page decision — which modifies past contracts and decisions — came after a year of evidentiary hearings, pitting the city against the Fraternal Order of Police [FOP]. While much of the contract deals with wages and benefits, it includes planks that govern procedures when an officer is the subject of a complaint, or is suspected of misconduct or criminal activity.

The arbitration decision states:

  • Police can't be compelled to testify before the independent Citizen Police Review Board.
  • Officers who are the subjects of complaints are interviewed by the city's Office of Municipal Investigations [OMI], which must give 24 hours notice before interviewing the officer. The officer can have an FOP representative present for that interview.
  • Anonymous OMI complaints without corroborative evidence are automatically classified as unfounded, unless they could lead to criminal charges.
  • Any OMI complaint that is ultimately deemed unfounded is destroyed one year after the investigation is completed, along with the records of the investigation.
  • Police brass can mete out disciplinary action, from an oral reprimand to termination.
  • Officers can file grievances to seek to reverse any disciplinary action from a written reprimand to a termination, which leads to a series of meetings and, ultimately, can end in binding arbitration before a three-member panel of arbitrators.
  • An officer's disciplinary history can be considered when the bureau considers promotions, and when weighing punishment options if the officer is subjected to another disciplinary action.
  • However, disciplinary actions are removed from officer records after certain periods of time. Oral reprimands go away after two years, written reprimands after three years, suspensions after five years. (Records of the actions remain in the city Law Department and in OMI files, but are no longer considered in promotions or new disciplinary decisions.)
  • When an officer is sued for any action taken in the course of the officer's duties, the city provides a legal defense.
  • In addition to defending officers against civil complaints, the city must pay $100,000 a year into a Legal Defense Fund to cover any other legal counsel officers might need to address lawsuits arising from their duties. Those funds can also be used to pay lawyers to represent the officers before OMI, the Citizen Police Review Board or in critical incident investigations.
  • The city is allowed to transfer officers to other assignments "where events or circumstances jeopardize the ability of the officers to safely perform the duties of their position, including pending litigation or disciplinary action."

Rich Lord can be reached at rich@publicsource.org or on Twitter @richelord.

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