In a Bind: Arbitration gives officers a method of fighting termination, but what recourse does the public have when they're rehired? | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

In a Bind: Arbitration gives officers a method of fighting termination, but what recourse does the public have when they're rehired? 

"By the time the process is over, no one is disciplined unless they're sitting in jail."

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On that much, at least, parties on both sides can agree.

Bosetti, for one, argues that when an officer is facing termination or felony charges, hearing transcripts should be publicly available after an arbitrator or judge makes a ruling. Walczak, too, supports a more open process.

"These are public officials who have the ability to take away your liberty or even your life in some circumstances," he says. "So what happens to them is of utmost public interest."

As it stands, though, the parties involved in arbitration cases often don't talk. The police contract does not permit the city to "divulge the reasons for any disciplinary action that is not appealed beyond arbitration."

City Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge says there's no law requiring the city to turn over anything more than a piece of paper that says whether a particular grievance was sustained or denied. The city is not even required to specify what the grievance was for.

Sanchez-Ridge says it can be tricky to predict how a particular arbitrator will rule and has asked for a review of the city's arbitration cases. "It's not like a litigation case where there's usually a whole bunch of research and case law on the topic," she says. "It's usually how the arbitrator interprets the law or the contract."

Asked whether the process should be more open, Sanchez-Ridge says, "Obviously the more open a procedure, the more everybody is held accountable. On the other hand, you're dealing with personnel issues that shouldn't be public."

For his part, Mayor Bill Peduto has signaled the importance of police discipline as the FOP's contract with the city expires this year. At a press conference held March 13 — the day an arbitrator reversed the city's residency requirement for police officers — Peduto said: "My biggest concern with our police isn't where they sleep at night but that we have a very professional police bureau. [...] I should have the power to fire [officers] [...] Those are things that could be negotiated in collective bargaining."

"The FOP negotiations are coming up very soon," labor lawyer Mike Healey adds. "And it's going to be a very big issue."



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