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Police Discipline in Chicago: Arbitration or Arbitrary?

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 89 Issue: 1 Dated: Fall 1998 Pages: 215-244
Mark Iris
Date Published
30 pages
In order to determine how a police executive's disciplinary actions against a large pool of officers were affected by arbitrators' decisions, this study examined 328 disciplinary actions decided by binding arbitration in the Chicago Police Department from 1990 through 1993, as well as 205 disciplinary actions reviewed by arbitrators for nonbinding advisory opinions from July 1993 to July 1995.
The arbitrators' decisions under the system in place came after the penalties had been served following a complex investigative process with numerous points for reviews. The arbitrators' decisions in this system took one of three forms: affirmed the full disciplinary penalty already ordered and served; overturned the suspension in full; or upheld the penalty in part. Findings show that the arbitrators had an almost perfect "50-50" split in favoring the department's decision and the disciplined officer's defense. A total of 135 of the 328 arbitrator decisions (41 percent) upheld the department's discipline in full; 133 (40 percent) reversed the department and awarded full back pay for the suspensions at stake; and in 60 cases (19 percent), there were split findings. The explanations of these findings are uncertain; however, the overall pattern is so uniform as to raise serious questions about the merits of the arbitration process. If these findings can be replicated through studies of pools of decisions from other jurisdictions, arbitration may indeed be suspected of being arbitrary. If this pattern is not replicated in other departments, it would suggest the existence of factors unique to Chicago. 3 tables and 89 footnotes


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