The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia has a Reserve Police Corps, an organization of volunteers designed to “assist full-time, sworn police personnel in both the day-to-day and emergency delivery of law enforcement services.” On March 28, 2006, the Chief of the Department issued a general order which, among other things, prohibited Reserve Corps members from organizing for collective bargaining purposes, allowed the Chief of Police to reduce the Reserve Corps members’ rank or remove a member from the Corps without a hearing or administrative review, and limited the authority of reserves to make arrests and issue notices of infractions.
Members of the Reserve Corps filed a lawsuit against the Department, alleging that the Chief’s orders violated their due process rights. A federal court recently dismissed the lawsuit.
The Court held that to have a due process property right to the job, the reserves would have to have some reasonable expectation of continued “employment.” As the Court reasoned, “generally speaking, volunteers do not have property interests in their positions, and thus do not have the constitutional right to due process. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has held that no such liberty or property interest exists in retaining a volunteer position as a Reserve Corps member. Therefore, because the reserves do not have either a property or liberty interest in retaining their positions as members of the Reserve Corps, they are unable to state a Fifth Amendment due process claim.”
The reserves also argued that the Chief’s orders violated their First Amendment free speech rights. The Court disagreed, holding that “the problem with applying free speech principles here is that they are premised on the assumption that an employee cannot be forced to choose between her constitutional rights and her livelihood. Here, the reserve officers are not employees, and the regulation in question does not pit their First Amendment rights against their livelihoods.”
The Court was willing to assume for the sake of its decision that the reserves might hypothetically have some First Amendment rights. The Court nonetheless held that there was “scant evidence in the record about what the reserves seek to speak about, other than their general references to collective bargaining. They have not raised concerns about safety issues and have not indicated that they seek to speak out about anything other than their interest in retaining their positions. On the other hand, the Department has a substantial interest in maintaining harmony and close working relationships among law enforcement officers, as well as maintaining orderly operations. Such interests might easily be disrupted if the Department were engaged in extensive bargaining negotiations with volunteers regarding the conditions of their service. In these circumstances, the reserves’ limited First Amendment interest does not overcome the need of the Department to exercise effective authority over the Reserve Corps.”
Griffith v. Lanier, 2007 WL 950087 (D.D.C. 2007).
This article appears in the June 2007 issue