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Cleveland Mayor Criticizes Arbitration’s Role in Police Discipline

Monday, March, 9, 2015

The Mayor of Cleveland, Frank Jackson, has been working to reform the Cleveland Police Department. He has taken steps to change the way police officers are trained and disciplined in the wake of a report released by the Department of Justice that identified a clear pattern of civil rights abuses in the city. However, he claims that many of these steps are rendered ineffective by the process that allows any officer to appeal disciplinary decisions to an arbitration process that seems to routinely favor the officers.


Any officer receiving a disciplinary punishment from the department has the right under the current collective bargaining agreement to go before an arbitration panel. The arbitrator is generally empowered to uphold or overrule the disciplinary action.


The city has highlighted 20 cases in which officers who were suspended or fired over civil rights violations, use of excessive force, or a disregard of department policies and in which an arbitrator ruled to reinstate the officers. The Mayor pointed out that this means departmental disciplinary actions are toothless, allowing officers to feel they can get away with violations with impunity.


The arbitration process is very common in police departments around the country, as is the regular reversal of disciplinary actions against officers. Mayor Jackson is trying to convince the Department of Justice that he is doing all he can to change the culture at the police department, but points out that having ineffective tools of discipline makes this a very difficult goal to achieve.