PHILADELPHIA, PA – FOUR YEARS ago, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was looking for more leeway in how to deal with misbehaving cops.
Frustrated by a disciplinary code that hadn’t been updated in ages, Ramsey implemented a new one that gave him the power to dish out harsher punishments.
Police union officials cried foul because the new code hadn’t been negotiated, and they filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board alleging an unfair-labor practice.
This week, the board sided with the union, saying in a ruling that the changes should have been bargained.
The ramifications could be immense – or not.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, said last night that the ruling could impact “hundreds” of cops disciplined since 2010.
If the punishments were harsher than what would have been allowed under the old disciplinary code, those cops could be owed restitution, McNesby said.
Ramsey, attending a law-enforcement conference in San Francisco, said he had not yet read the board’s ruling, but believed that the impact would be small.
“The Law Department is reviewing the decision and its impact,” he said. “I don’t believe they’ve decided whether to appeal or not.”
A flier from the FOP yesterday celebrated the labor board’s ruling, claiming that every punishment dished out in the last four years was now “null & void.”
“No one believes that – other than perhaps the FOP,” Ramsey said. “It could take some time to sort all of this out.”
The commissioner said the Law Department advised him in 2010 that management had the right to implement the new disciplinary code.
The 18-page document spelled out the types of punishment that cops could expect for nearly every kind of misconduct, from failing to salute and using profane language to having sex in a patrol car while on duty and getting into a fistfight with another officer.
But in its ruling filed Tuesday, the board decreed that the city violated the law by “unilaterally” increasing penalties for offenses and adding “new violations” not previously detailed in the code. The list of disciplinary rules nearly doubled, from 58 to 107, according to the board.
Ramsey’s predecessors had worked since at least 2004 to update the code, but did so in talks with union leaders, according to the ruling. Ramsey, who took over the top job in 2008, created a task force to revise the code – but issued the new one without agreement from the FOP as law requires, the ruling noted.
“All they had to do was sit down and talk to us,” McNesby said. “We would have been glad to entertain some discussions. The law was clear: You can’t just unilaterally implement a new policy.”