The Dallas Police Department has discontinued its policy of waiting 72 hours to interview officers involved in police shootings.Regular readers may recall Grits blasted that policy when DPD enacted it in 2013, so this is welcome news. Grits can't immediately tell from the coverage if the change applies to all misconduct allegations or only shootings, but the former would be preferable to the latter.
The announcement came late Thursday as part of the department's response to a 14-point list of demands made by the Next Generation Action Network. The group has railed against police brutality nationwide and called locally for more community oversight in officer-involved shootings.
"Effective immediately, every officer will be provided the same legal rights as any other citizen who is the subject of a criminal investigation," the department said in a statement. ...
The department's policy had given officers 72 hours before they were asked to make a formal statement to detectives in the special investigations unit, which studies all assaults and shootings involving police officers.
The question immediately arises: Might other Texas jurisdictions follow suit? The answer is maybe, it's complicated.
Dallas Chief David Brown could do this unilaterally because their negotiators did a better job retaining power over the disciplinary process in their "meet and confer" (read: collective bargaining) agreement with the local union than, say, their counterparts in Austin or Houston.
The Dallas agreement (pdf, p. 7-8) does not dictate that agency's disciplinary process the way Austin's does. Instead, it specifies that, "the City shall retain the sole, exclusive and vested right, prerogative, power and authority to ... establish, eliminate, modify, review, and enforce rules and standards governing job performance, personal conduct and appearance, uniforms and equipment, safety, training, education, attendance, discipline, and efficiency ... [and] the right to establish, abolish or modify processes and procedures for investigating and reviewing Officer conduct and complaints relating to that conduct."
Under their situation, the chief can make that decision unilaterally.
By contrast, Austin's meet and confer agreement (pdf) is much more detailed and dictates every detail of the disciplinary process. When Austin PD interrogates cops over misconduct, they receive an array of special protections which don't apply to average citizens.
For example, not less than 48 hours before an Austin police officer must give a statement to investigators about alleged misconduct, he or she must be provided with "a copy of the complaint(s)," as well as any additional allegations discovered by investigators which are not included in a complaint. The officer and their attorney may also "review the portions of any document(s) in which it is alleged that the Officer provided false, incomplete, inconsistent, or conflicting information, or in which it is alleged that the Officer omitted information in violation of any law or Department policy," as well as "any report, supplement use of force report, or other statement recorded or written by the Officer, setting forth particulars or facts regarding the operative conduct which is the subject of the allegation(s). In addition, officers are also "provided an opportunity to review any videotape, photograph or other recording of the operative conduct or alleged injuries, if any, which is the subject of the allegations if such a recording is within the possession or control of the Department."
In Houston, by contrast, their 48-hour rule is enshrined in HPD's stand-alone section of the state civil service code. There it dictates that officers receive notice 48 hours before being subjected to interrogation under the statute. But their meet and confer agreement goes further, letting officers see copies "of the statement/affidavit/complaint that serves as the basis for the complaint by the complainant at the time the 48 hour notice is given," as well as any "written statements or affidavits received or gathered by the investigative authority from witnesses, officers or supervisors obtained during the investigation before the officer's interrogation."
Imagine these same protections being applied to regular criminal defendants. Basically, the stuff the Michael Morton Act says most defendants get to see after they're formally charged, Austin and Houston police officers get to see before they're ever even questioned by investigators. As a former GOP DA candidate in Dallas, Toby Shook, said when their policy was enacted, "Police detectives often get very damaging statements from suspects shortly after the incident. At trial if the defendant’s story changes the prosecutor quickly argues to the jury that the defendant has changed his story and is lying." Police officers, however, are held to a far lesser standard and those sort of "gotcha" tactics don't apply to them.
Bottom line: the new Dallas rule is a good one but some other jurisdictions may be prevented from implementing something similar without revisiting the subject in their meet and confer contracts. Chief Brown could accomplish this quickly because past collective bargaining agreements did not tie his hands on officer discipline. Other departments which weren't as wise must wait until their contracts expire before it's possible to follow suit. When that happens, they should seek contract language closer to what's in the Dallas agreement.
RELATED: On the limits of enacting police reform through union contracts.