Union contract lets Chicago police officers trade comp time for discipline

As the Department of Justice begins its civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department, or CPD, it would be wise to investigate the collective-bargaining agreements that too often let the force’s bad apples rot on the job.

For example, critics have pointed out that the city’s contracts with police unions require the destruction of complaint records against officers after five years  – a major threat to effective oversight.

Another flaw is lesser known: Police officers can swap compensatory, or comp, time for days when they are supposed to be on unpaid leave for disciplinary reasons.

Section 7.1 of the contract between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7, which represents rank-and-file CPD officers, details this procedure:

If an officer receives “summary punishment,” an alternative to formal discipline that can result in unpaid leave of between one and three days, he or she may trade eight hours of accumulated comp time for each day of leave and go right back to work.

Officers can receive summary punishment for the following reasons, among others:

  • Failure to provide prompt, correct and courteous police service
  • Failure to perform assigned tasks
  • Failure to report an incident within the guidelines delineated in department directives

This policy underscores a larger discipline problem within CPD.

From 2011 to 2015, over 98 percent of the 28,500 complaints filed against officers resulted in no formal discipline, according to data acquired by the Citizens Police Data Project, or CPDP. Among the few instances when officers were disciplined, a vast majority came in the form of a reprimand or suspension of less than a week.

Officers with many complaints make up only a small number of the more than 12,000 officers within CPD. But those officers are responsible for a sizable number of complaints –10 percent of the officers generated 30 percent of total complaints since 2011, according to CPDP data.

To get out of unpaid leave due to summary punishment, officers can also trade furlough days (unpaid vacation days), baby furlough days (paid vacation days) and personal days.

Beyond serving as a substitute for unpaid time off for disciplinary reasons, comp time can also be a winning lottery ticket. CPD allows employees to accumulate comp time for decades, and cash out when they leave the department. In 2014, five retiring officers cashed out over $100,000 each, primarily from comp time, according to Chicago Sun-Times research.

Further, police supervisors can cash in 200 hours of comp time every year, worth thousands of dollars. Officers can also cash in the three to six baby furlough days they receive each year. Baby furlough days cost the city nearly $7 million in 2011, according to data acquired by the Chicago Sun-Times.

In a cash-strapped city making international headlines for a lack of accountability in policing, local leaders can no longer afford to kowtow to police-union demands in contract negotiations.

Residents need foundational change. Chicago politicians need not wait for a federal investigation to prove it.

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Tags: police, transparency, unions

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