Findings Imply Violent Misconduct Rose After Florida Sheriff’s Deputies Joined Union: Study

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Findings in a study by three University Chicago researchers implied that violent officer misconduct complaints among sheriff’s offices (SOs) in Florida increased by 40 percent after collective bargaining rights.

The study tabulated violent incidents of misbehavior recorded in state databases between 1996 and 2003—when SOs were given the right to unionize under a Florida Supreme Court decision in Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association v. Williams —and the period following the ruling, to 2015.

“[Our findings] show that the conferral of collective bargaining rights on officers at SOs led to an increase in violent incidents, relative to a control group of [police departments] that were unaffected by Williams,” said the study.

The researchers cautioned that while the percentage of increase seemed “strikingly large,” “the baseline rate of violent incidents is low.”

By the end of 2008, the study said that 28 sheriff agencies, housing 15,581 sworn deputy officers or 76 percent of the total in the state, had a collective bargaining agreement.

The researchers noted that Florida already had a legal framework in place that helps officers during disciplinary investigations.

The Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) includes a provision that gives an officer the right to “be informed of the nature of the investigation before any interrogation begins” and to receive “all witness statements…and all other existing evidence,” noted the study.

Nevertheless, collective bargaining agreements can make internal disciplinary investigations difficult, said the study. For example, the researchers said that some agreements have law enforcement officers challenge discipline brought on by arbitration of other administrative review.

“Other rights include a tightened time limitation on internal affairs investigations and expungement of old records, even when the officer is found to have engaged in misconduct,” the study reported.

Collective bargaining agreements can act as wrenches that clog the disciplinary machinery of a law enforcement agency, the study said, noting that the procedures and protections from those agreements make it costly for superiors to fire misbehaving officers, which—the researchers said —lowers deterrence.

“[Our results] provide strong evidence for a “shadow effect” from collective bargaining rights and some evidence of a ‘CBA [, or collective bargaining agreement,] effect’ among Sheriff’s Offices,” the researchers wrote.

Florida’s law enforcement agents have several unions, including the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

Workers in “protective service” occupations, which include police, had the highest rate of unionization among American workers in 2018—33.9 percent—according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Law enforcement unions have made headlines—much notably in New York.

In 2016, the N.Y. Police Department ruled that officers accused of misconduct could only get overtime when it was empty in resources and tight on time, reported The New York Daily News.

The ruling came after the NYPD learned that Officer Daniel Pantaleo–who caught national uproar over a chokehold of Black Staten Island man Eric Garner in July 2014 (with Garner later passing away)–earned nearly $17,100 in overtime in the fiscal year 2015 and $120,000 in 2016, “far above his $78,000 base salary,” said The Daily News.

The Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York (NYC PBA) and the city Board of Collective Bargaining criticized the NYPD’s decision, said the newspaper.

The board said the NYPD acted too unilaterally and the PBA argued that the ruling impedes on due process for accused officers, reported the paper.

“They and their families should not suffer a financial penalty before there has been any finding of misconduct, or even before the issue has been fully investigated,” the paper quotes PBA president Patrick J. Lynch saying. “This purely political policy was a clear violation of police officers’ collectively bargained rights.”

An arbitration board later reversed the ruling, said The Daily News.

Earlier this month, the Federal Department of Justice decided not to bring charges against Pantaleo, causing outcries from protesters, activists, and Garner’s family members.

The authors of the study are Dhammika Dharmapala, Richard H. McAdams, and John Rappaport—all from the University of Chicago Law School.

Download the full study here.

Brian Demo is a TCR news intern.

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