On Friday April 16, 2010, Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1029 into law. PLEA has been activley pursuing “Just Cause” legislation for the past 10 years. The importance of having a law that protects law enforcement officers from arbitrary and capricious employment actions cannot be overstated. The following article authored by PLEA President Mark Spencer explains why this piece of hard won legislation is so important to law enforcement personnel of all ranks. CLICK HERE to read the actual Senate Bill.
by Mark Spencer
“Yo dude” is heard and a clearly distracted surfer comes to mind. “Got milk?” brings a picture of a milk-stained lip. A minimum of two words can communicate a maximum amount of information. “Don’t move” is a police command that carries serious consequences if ignored. “Nice job” says volumes to a discouraged worker or a struggling student. “Flip-flop” is a word pair that carries significant meaning in any election cycle.
Two other words have just entered the police labor arena in Arizona: “Just Cause.” For police officers under administrative investigation with their jobs and/or reputations on the line, the two words “just cause” make a huge difference. The difference can mean having a job in law enforcement or working at a Home Depot. The difference can mean being a useful witness for the State or being subjected to impeachment created by the Brady list. The difference can be the ability to take care of one’s family or carrying the heavy burden hooked to suspensions, transfers, and demotions. To put it simply, state law now requires police managers to treat police officers in Arizona fairly – disciplined according to “just cause.”
Our contract gives us the protection of “just cause” that most police personnel in Arizona operate without. The M.O.U. is clear: “The Chief of Police and City Manager reserve the right to discipline or discharge employees for just cause, pursuant to the Civil Service laws.” It took PLEA over a decade to get the enormous implications carried by these two words in State statute (38-1103). These two words now begin to provide the same rights and protections to law enforcement officers throughout the state that citizens and Phoenix Police Officers have enjoyed without question. Now state law is just as clear as our contract: “A law enforcement officer shall not be subject to disciplinary action except for “just cause.”
Two words loaded with meaning. In the past, police managers could discipline “just because” they could. Not anymore. What does “just cause” mean? The new statute defines “just cause”:
- One, the employer informed the officer of the possible disciplinary action. Translation – police management can’t make up rules on the spot or impose impromptu standards on men and women who risk their lives on a daily basis in protecting their communities. Work rule expectations must be forewarned or the officer must have reasonably known that their conduct was such that it could result in discipline.
- Two, the disciplinary action is reasonably related to the standards of conduct for a professional law enforcement officer. Translation – police managers can’t use their personal, subjective, moral opinions as the basis of discipline for law enforcement personnel.
- Three, the discipline is supported by a preponderance of evidence. Translation – finally police officers can rely upon a defined level of evidence necessary to sustain work rule violations and the idea of “erring on the side of caution,” a standard of finding unheard of in criminal and civil courts, can no longer end or damage an officer’s career.
- And four, the discipline is not excessive and reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense and the officer’s service record. Translation – police managers can no longer accuse an officer of jaywalking and then punish them for reckless driving.
In the past, PLEA’s strategy in obtaining a just cause statute was to employ end-runs around important conservative or liberal legislators and elected officials. Little effort was made to work with sheriff departments or in building partnerships around common areas of agreement. When it came to MCSO, the philosophy was “strap a bomb on the back of a deputy union president, send them into Arpaio’s office, and then get angry after the explosion when MCSO didn’t support our efforts.” The end result – NOTHING. Doing this year after year and expecting a different result was a classic example of insanity. This had to stop. The needs of the many in law enforcement statewide were more important than fueling personal and political agendas of a few.
Three years ago, PLEA members chose to utilize a new strategy – positive partnerships. As a result of this, just cause passed with support of both sides of the aisle (only one “NO” vote – Representative Ash (R)). The reputation of sheriffs not being willing to work with PLEA and police labor was shattered. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babuea lead the charge from the law enforcement management side of the house. State Senator Russell Pearce partnered with PLEA on the bill and facilitated SB1029. On Friday April 16, 2009 Governor Brewer signed SB1029 (Discipline of Law Enforcement Officers) into law.
Recognition for the hard work behind this bill is clearly warranted. For PLEA, Dr. Levi Bolton sat down with the MCSO team of Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott, Clarice McCormick (legal counsel), and Ray Churay (legislative liaison) to produce the written product. Dr. Bolton then worked with a cadre of attorneys and lobbyists from the Association of Chiefs of Police (ACOP), Phoenix PD, and other towns and cities to craft language that worked for all parties. PLEA attorney Mike Napier provided counsel, input, and oversight. Dr. Bolton, APA Director Brian Livingston, and PLEA’s lobbying team of Williams and Associates then explained and worked with legislators to move the bill forward. Our citizen partners Jerry and Donna Niell (NAILEM) and Ann Malone (Require the Prior) provided legislative testimony in support of PLEA’s product.
In looking at the time, effort, and talent of all those involved, two more words come to mind that can’t begin to express my gratefulness and the gratitude of PLEA members and law enforcement personnel across the state of Arizona – THANK YOU!