Depending on your point of view, the arbitration system that Philadelphia police officers use to appeal firings and other punishment is either a broken, biased process or the purest form of justice, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. It either allows rogue cops to remain on the streets or protects good officers from capricious, often politically motivated judgments. Because the police union wins most arbitrations, one thing is certain: It is very difficult to fire a Philadelphia officer. Through arbitration in the last five years, the union has returned about two-thirds of dismissed officers to the force.
In the latest high-profile case, an arbitrator on March 12 overturned the firings of two officers videotaped by a news helicopter kicking and punching three shooting suspects in 2008. The arbitrator also reduced the suspension of three others to reprimands, and restored a demoted sergeant to his rank. The case highlighted the union’s long-held advantage in arbitration. Police commissioners and mayors have been complaining about the disparity for years, saying the system needs to be reformed, and one former commissioner even calls the system heavily weighted to favor the union. Former Police Commissioner John Timoney said he remembered winning just one hearing during his tenure from 1998 through 2001, after he fired an officer for shooting an unarmed motorist. “That was the one that severed whatever relationship I had with the union,” he said. “It’s just not a good system, but Philadelphia is a very pro-labor town.” Former Fraternal Order of Police president Richard Costello said that the city simply failed to make its case to the arbitrators, and that it shouldn’t blame the system.