Friday, January 19, 2001

City Council wants review of arbitration

Officers have regained jobs

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati lawmakers didn't object when a two-year contract was signed with the police union last month.

        But after revelations that 10 out of 10 officers fired for improper conduct in the last five years had been reinstated after they took their cases to arbitration, City Council members now say they want to change the way disciplinary actions are handled.

        “A few officers should not be allowed to besmirch the reputation of the police department,” Councilman Pat DeWine said Thursday. “We did just approve a (police) contract. But it's not too early to start thinking about changes.”

        He and other council members question why outside arbitrators, hired to be impartial judges, have ruled against the city in every case involving a fired police officer.

        Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman said Thursday that the move “smacks of political grandstanding.”

        He said it was the city that asked for binding arbitration seven years ago, not the union.

        “No one, including Mr. DeWine, said a word about arbitration during the vote,” Mr. Fangman said of the recent contract.

        He said the union doesn't support bad cops. The real problem with arbitrations, he said, can be found in some harshly-worded decisions by arbitrators who have said the city's cases are not always well-prepared.

        “That's not the FOP's problem,” Mr. Fangman said. “That's a city problem, and council members should focus on cleaning up their own house.”

        Council members don't dispute that arbitrators alone are not to blame. They cited problems with written police policies, police investigations, presentations by city attorneys and uneven discipline.

        They unanimously supported a letter sent by Mr. DeWine to City Manager John Shirey that asks for an extensive review of the discipline process within 60 days. The eight-point letter also calls for a meeting with the police union about finding ways to address the problem.

        Councilman Phil Heimlich said the city made a mistake when it agreed to use arbitrators.


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