(The Center Square) – Police reform has been a hot topic in Illinois and around the nation, and now lawmakers are taking a look at police union contracts.
A new study by the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute reveals that police contracts are hindering internal investigations, making it difficult for police chiefs to get rid of problem officers.
Illinois labor law contains a provision that elevates collective bargaining agreements above state law. Section 15, included in the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, states union-negotiated contracts override all other state laws and regulations.
Analysis by IPI found the 10 largest municipalities in Illinois, outside Chicago, all have provisions in their police collective bargaining agreements that would supersede internal investigations and officer discipline. They include Joliet, Rockford, Springfield, Champaign, Naperville, Peoria, Aurora, Elgin, Waukegan and Cicero.
The contracts include provisions prohibiting anonymity of complaints, provisions providing special information to accused officers, and provisions hiding investigations from subsequent review.
Illinois Policy staff attorney and director of labor policy Mailee Smith said the police contracts allow for an outside party to be judge and jury for an internal investigation.
“A third party arbitrator to basically overrule what a police chief has already decided should happen,” said Smith.
Two bills are making their way through Springfield addressing union contracts. House Bill 3891 would exclude police union contracts from the language in Section 15, meaning those contracts would no longer have more power than state laws. House Bill 3892 would limit negotiation by police unions to compensation only, preventing contracts from including disciplinary provisions.
Smith said as the law stands now, police chiefs conducting internal investigations say their hands are tied.
“They describe how their discretion in dealing with officer misconduct is hindered by police union contracts,” Smith said.
A recent poll by Illinois Policy asked whether provisions in a police union contract, such as provisions providing for disciplinary processes, should carry more weight than provisions in state law. Over 51% answered no, 35% were unsure, and 13% percent answered yes.
Requests for comment from the Joliet and Rockford police departments were unanswered.