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POLICE
IMPUNITY

For nearly a decade, WCRJ has led a grassroots campaign to outlaw unjust police union contracts that obstruct accountability for officer misconduct. Now that a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit new restrictions on collective bargaining rights will appear on the Illinois ballot in 2022, our fight is more urgent than ever. Before this amendment is held for a vote, lawmakers must rein in police unions' rampant abuse of collective bargaining powers.

Throughout Illinois, unjust union contracts shield law enforcement from investigations of alleged misconduct and abuse. Politically powerful police organizations, like Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), have negotiated watertight collective bargaining agreements that are engineered to obstruct nearly any attempt to regulate departments or hold officers accountable for criminal acts. In order to ensure that this pernicious system of officer impunity is not enshrined in the state constitution, Illinois lawmakers must enact common sense limitations on police union contract agreements

Police Union Contract Abuse in Illinois 

Collective bargaining rights are a vital mechanism for ensuring equity and justice in our labor system and throughout our society as a whole. And yet, for nearly half a century, politicized law enforcement groups have worked in bad faith to undermine the rightful intentions behind these powers. Local police unions across Illinois have negotiated unjust contracts that obstruct police reform efforts and shield officers from accountability for acts of serious misconduct.

 

This spring, state lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment, which, if approved by voters in 2022, would broadly prohibit the passage of any new laws limiting collective bargaining rights in Illinois. In order to ensure that systems of officer impunity are not enshrined in the state constitution, the Illinois legislature must act with timely deliberation to pass common sense reform of police union contract abuse before the 2022 general election.

5 Ways Police Contracts Obstruct Justice

Throughout Illinois, politicized law enforcement groups have weaponized collective bargaining rights as a means to circumvent police accountability laws and shield officers from investigation of alleged wrongdoing. Coordinated at the national level, police unions across the state have employed the following tactics to codify a system of officer impunity into their municipal contracts:

01

Prevent residents from filing complaints against abusive officers.

Police union contracts in multiple cities in Illinois prohibit investigations of alleged police misconduct unless complaints are substantiated by a signed affidavit. The Department of Justice determined that prohibitions on anonymous complaints undermine police accountability by silencing community members who fear retaliation for coming forward about officer abuse.

Police union contracts in multiple cities in Illinois prohibit investigations of alleged police misconduct unless complaints are substantiated by a signed affidavit. The Department of Justice determined that prohibitions on anonymous complaints undermine police accountability by silencing community members who fear retaliation for coming forward about officer abuse.

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Provision 1

02

Undermine open investigations of alleged police misconduct.

Police unions have negotiated contracts that guarantee special rights for accused officers, such as the ability to postpone interrogations for up to 72 hours and review case evidence before providing a statement. Historically, officers have exploited these special privileges to corroborate false reports and obstruct open investigations of alleged abuse.

Police unions have negotiated contracts that guarantee special rights for accused officers, such as the ability to postpone interrogations for up to 72 hours and review case evidence before providing a statement. Historically, officers have exploited these special privileges to corroborate false reports and obstruct open investigations of alleged abuse.

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Provision 2

03

Require the routine destruction of officer disciplinary records.

Police unions have negotiated contracts that guarantee special rights for accused officers, such as the ability to postpone interrogations for up to 72 hours and review case evidence before providing a statement. Historically, officers have exploited these special privileges to corroborate false reports and obstruct open investigations of alleged abuse.

Many union contracts in cities across Illinois require that police disciplinary records be routinely destroyed, in some instances, after just one year. Other agreements mandate that prior discipline and use-of-force histories are inadmissible in police misconduct investigations. A 2016 Department of Justice report found that the records destruction mandate impedes misconduct investigations by limiting a department’s ability to identify patterns of officer abuse.

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04

Allow officers to overturn disciplinary actions through grievance procedures.

Most police union contracts in Illinois outline a lengthy process for appealing a disciplinary action against an officer. Often this procedure ends in a binding arbitration, through which the termination of an officer found guilty of misconduct can be overturned. paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.

Most police union contracts in Illinois outline a lengthy process for appealing a disciplinary action against an officer. Often this procedure ends in a binding arbitration, through which the termination of an officer found guilty of misconduct can be overturned.

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Provision 4

05

Shield individual officers from civil lawsuits pertaining to rights violations.

Police union contracts routinely indemnify police in civil damages actions. In cases where the courts find that officers violated civil rights, taxpayers shoulder the settlement fees. A New York University Law Review study found that officers are indemnified in 99.98% of these civil cases.

Police union contracts routinely indemnify police in civil damages actions. In cases where the courts find that officers violated civil rights, taxpayers shoulder the settlement fees. A New York University Law Review study found that officers are indemnified in 99.98% of these civil cases.

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Provision 5

Unjust Contracts Override Police Reform Laws

Even as the state legislature enacts new police accountability laws in Illinois, unjust police union threaten to undermine the impact of these reforms. The Act Takes Precedence clause in Section 15 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act dictates that when there is a conflict between a police union contract and state law, the contract takes precedence.

 

In January 2021, the Illinois legislature passed the SAFE-T Act, a momentous police accountability package that, among other key reforms, outlaws the routine destruction of police disciplinary records and ends the signed affidavit requirement for complaints against police officers. However, these provisions conflict with impunity measures in current police union contracts in municipalities across Illinois. The Act Takes Precedence clause potentially undermines the legal authority of SAFE-T Act with respect to these provisions. 


In order to ensure that democratically elected lawmakers - not special interest police unions - have final say on critical public safety reforms in Illinois, the general assembly must narrowly amend Section 15 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act to exempt police unions from the Act Takes Precedence clause.

 
 
 

Impunity Provisions Drive Systemic Abuse

Armored by unjust contract protections, police officers are often emboldened to exceed the limits of their powers, with the assurance of virtual immunity.

 

  • States that recently authorized collective bargaining powers for police unions, witnessed a subsequent increase in racially targeted police brutality. After Florida legalized union contracts for deputy sheriffs in 2003, complaints of officer violence rose by 40%.

  • The Bureau of Justice Statistics released data demonstrating that unionized law enforcement units received significantly higher rates of use-of-force complaints than non-unionized police agencies. 

 

  • Another recent investigation of the nation's one hundred most populous cities found that impunity provisions in police contracts are correlated with increased officer violence. In this study, Chicago ranks the highest, both in terms of contract shields against accountability, as well as rates of police brutality.

Precedents for Reform

Historically, when labor unions have exploited collective bargaining powers to advance ulterior ends, outside the scope of legitimate labor rights, the law has intervened. For example, in decades past, when workers' unions negotiated racially exclusionary contract terms, the courts ruled these activities to be unlawful.

 

In 2020, Oregon, Connecticut, and Washington D.C. passed legislation prohibiting measures in collective bargaining agreements that obstruct the investigation and discipline of police officers. These laws have withstood police union challenges in federal court.

 

Policy Solutions to End Police Contract Abuse

In September 2020, Representative Carol Ammons, in partnership with WCRJ, introduced a bill to prohibit impunity provisions in police collective bargaining agreements. After months of grassroots advocacy, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus adopted the bill in the introduced version of the criminal justice omnibus bill. However, during the 2021 lame duck session, police unions voiced opposition to the measure, and the bill was negotiated out of the final omnibus package. 

 

Since that time, WCRJ has consulted with a wide range of stakeholders, including county state’s attorney’s offices, labor lawyers, members of the Illinois General Assembly, and communities impacted by racialized police abuse. Incorporating these critical perspectives, WCRJ is crafting new legislative language that would:

 

  • Prohibit provisions in police union contracts that limit a department’s ability to investigate and discipline misconduct allegations related to encounters with civilians

  • Narrowly amend Section 15 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act to ensure that provisions in police union contracts do not take precedence or state-level police reforms


In partnership with Representative Ammons, WCRJ will introduce this legislation in the fall of 2021, and champion its passage before Illinois’ proposed collective bargaining amendment is held for a vote in the 2022 general election.

The Urgency for a Timely Policy Response

This spring, Illinois lawmakers passed a proposed constitutional amendment, which, if approved by voters in the 2022 election, would broadly prohibit the passage of any new legislation limiting collective bargaining rights in Illinois.

 

In order to ensure that the toxic system of officer impunity is not enshrined in the state constitution, Illinois lawmakers must enact common sense limitations on police union contract abuse before the collective bargaining amendment is voted on in 2022.