League Calls on Legislature to Keep Working on Police Arbitration Reform

August 3, 2020

The League is seeking law enforcement arbitration reform that would result in more effective discipline for officers who violate policies and undermine the public’s trust.

The police reform bill the Legislature passed during the second special session in July included changes to law enforcement arbitration, but the League is seeking additional measures.

The police reform package, Second Special Session Chapter 1, authored by Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) and Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), was signed into law as the Police Accountability Act on July 23. (Read more about the legislation.)

The law enforcement arbitration reform measures included in the law were not what the League was working to accomplish. The League sought inclusion of a measure that would reduce the standard of review in law enforcement grievances to a reasonable standard and also provide a process for appeals when a termination or serious discipline is overturned. Despite working with legislators on both sides of the aisle, the League’s preferred reforms were not included in the final package.

What passed?

What passed is a modified version of the current arbitration system that will apply exclusively to law enforcement grievances. Under the new law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, 2020, the commissioner of the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS), in consultation with community and law enforcement stakeholders, will appoint a roster of six people suited and qualified by training and experience to act as arbitrators for peace officer grievance arbitrations.

In making these appointments, the commissioner may consider a candidate’s familiarity with labor law, the grievance process, and the law enforcement profession; or experience and training in cultural competency, racism, implicit bias, and recognizing and valuing community diversity and cultural differences. Arbitrators on this roster cannot serve as arbitrators in labor arbitrations other than law enforcement grievance arbitrations.

The commissioner must assign arbitrators from the approved roster to peace officer grievance arbitrations on a rotating basis alphabetically ordered by last name. The parties may not participate in, negotiate for, or agree to the selection of an arbitrator or arbitration panel. The decision of the arbitrator is binding.

Lastly, police unions do not have the right to negotiate for or agree to a collective bargaining agreement or a grievance arbitration selection procedure with their employers that is inconsistent with this law.

League responds

On July 24, the League sent a letter to legislative leaders and the House and Senate members who worked on the arbitration reform provision. In the letter, the League expressed frustration with the outcome and requested that the Legislature continue to work on meaningful reform to the law enforcement arbitration process. Specifically, the League is asking for two modifications:

  1. The League requests a new reasonable standard of review required of the arbitrator in police misconduct cases.
  2. The League supports using administrative law judges (ALJs) for grievances involving terminations and discipline related to police misconduct.

—View the letter (pdf)

What’s next?

The League is encouraging member cities to reach out to their local legislators to advocate for these provisions. There is the potential for the Legislature to reopen the Police Accountability Act in a future special session or in the 2021 regular session to make clarifying changes and technical corrections.

If the Police Accountability Act is reopened, the League will advocate for additional language around arbitration reform.

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