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HR Bill 413 – A National Police Unaccountability Bill

URGENT UPDATE! -04/13/10 21:36PST

Folks, congress is apparently trying to push this one through on a fast track. Last night Senator Harry Reid introduced Senate bill 3194 that has nearly identical wording as S.1611 and HR 413 in a way that will force it to the Senate floor for a vote tomorrow which would send the bill to the House where they plan to amend it to their bill which would do away with the need to put it in a conference committee, sending it straight to the president for signature into law.

Simply put, this law would force every law enforcement agency in the US to allow police unions to have a say not only in pay and benefit issues, but also in disciplinary policies. If you thought it was hard to hold cops accountable for misconduct now, just wait until police unions get to influence disciplinary policies in every police department and sheriff’s office in the US!

This is one nasty piece of legislation and we must voice our opposition to it NOW, before they sneak it through congress before anyone knows what hit them!

I’ve talked a lot in the past about how the inability of many police departments to hold police officers accountable for misconduct and the lack of transparency for disciplinary records and investigations into allegations of misconduct are the result of police unions having the ability to negotiate on disciplinary and investigative policy items during contract talks.

For example, the police union here in Seattle Washington has been able to insert loopholes in the disciplinary process by imposing time limits on investigations. They have been able to tweak the contract language so that dishonesty cannot be grounds for dismissal even when the city thought it could be. They were able to give themselves five different avenues of appeal for overturning disciplinary actions against problematic cops, including use of highly biased arbitrators who almost always side with the officer in matters of disciplinary action. They have even been able to dictate what information can be shared with the public and even with the police oversight committees themselves.

All this because the state has granted the police unions the right to negotiate the conditions of employment with their employers, which includes the right to negotiate how they can and cannot be investigated and disciplined for allegations of misconduct.

Now, this isn’t the case everywhere at the moment, but how would you like it if this right was granted to every police union in the United States and if federal law mandated that every police department in the US was represented by a police officer’s union?

This is what House Bill HR 413: “The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2009” sponsored by Dale Kildee (D-MI) and 204 other representatives, and it’s Senate companion Senate bill S.1611 sponsored by Judd Gregg (R-NH) and 20 other senators, would do.

This bill, if passed, would force all local and state governments to follow these same problematic process that places like Seattle Washington and other similar cities have to follow by allowing police unions dictate police accountability and transparency policies for departments where officers almost never get fired and, when they do, they are always rehired with back pay at taxpayer expense after an expensive and biased appeals process.

In essence, this bill would risk making it much more difficult for every local and state government in the US to hold their police officers accountable for police misconduct. It would do more harm to issues of police accountability and transparency that even Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia ever could. All because it forces every department to negotiate disciplinary and public disclosure practices with police unions.

Currently the National Fraternal Organization of Police is sending out mailers encouraging it’s members to start pressuring their representatives and senators to support the bill based on assertions by US Rep Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) who assured police union leaders that “H.R. 413 would be “among the first” bills considered on the House floor following the Easter recess”. Which has sparked the push for police unions across the US to pressure congress into supporting the bill.

This means that it’s imperative that citizens call and write their representatives twice as hard as the police unions do because of the massive lobbying power that these unions possess through endorsements, campaign contributions, and political pressure on “law and order” types of congress members.

If you doubt how influential police unions have been in their push to get these bills passed, during the last congressional session in 2007-2008 the equivalent of this bill, then called HR 980, passed overwhelmingly. However, the bill was barely killed by a minority of Senators who attached unpopular amendments to the bill after their filibuster failed in 2008.

So, it’s time to let your senators and representatives know about the pitfalls these bills represent… unless, of course, you like the idea of an unaccountable police force in every city, county, and state in America.

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