WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — The Office of the District of Columbia Auditor (ODCA) released the results of an audit into why Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers who were fired were reinstated, how long the reinstatement process lasted, and the financial cost to the District when returning the officers to their jobs.
Auditors found that 36 police officers who’d been terminated for a variety reasons later were reinstated then given $14.3 million in back pay.
For every three officers fired by MPD, two were rehired.
“That’s a huge cost the the District,” said D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson, who stated some of the cases “defied common sense” because missteps let police officers who should have been fired off the hook and back on the force.
ODCA said the most common reason a firing by the police department was overturned was because an arbitrator thought termination was an excessive punishment for the officer’s misconduct. The audit found that MPD failure to meet deadlines, follow procedures, and provide adequate evidence also were factors.
Patterson said an audit of police settlements and judgements triggered the probe and that “one of the things that stuck out was individual payments to individual officers.”
What the digging found, she said, was a termination process with a myriad of problems.
The reinstatement cases reviewed by ODCA lasted almost eight years, on average. Most of the terminations were overturned by a process described in the collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). MPD and the FOP had no time limit to move forward on cases. For most, it took an average of 5.8 years to complete the first step of an appeal.
Some 36 MPD officers who were fired and got their job back within 5.5 years were awarded a total of $20.6 million. The District paid out $14.3 million of that total after wages they earned while terminated were subtracted from the award total.
As of September 2022, 15 of the 37 reinstated officers reviewed by ODCA were employed at MPD including three who were terminated for misconduct that ODCA has classified as a Threat to Safety.
As a result of the findings, ODCA made eight cost-free recommendations to the city:
- When the D.C. Council acts on permanent legislation to codify the removal of discipline from collective bargaining as approved in the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Congressional Review Emergency Amendment Act of 2022, legislators should make clear in D.C. Code or report language that they are eliminating arbitration and assigning additional responsibilities to the Office of Employee Appeals. This action will help reduce the risk of returning poor performers to the force while protecting the due process rights of rights of District employees.
- To minimize subjectivity over the severity of discipline for misconductand ensure discipline decisions reflect current policy, the D.C. Council should codify the MPD table of penalties with due consideration given to recommendations from the Chief of Police.
- The Mayor and Council should direct the review and amendment of MPD General Order GO-120, 6 DCMR § 1001.5, and/or D.C. Code § 5–133.06 to address the inconsistency between General Orders and D.C. Code that has resulted in overturned terminations.
- MPD should comply with statutory requirements on timely action in discipline matters, provide evidence sufficient to support any MPD appeals, and recommend clarification to the requirements to the extent needed.
- While arbitration remains an option, the Council should enact time limits on referring new cases for arbitration applicable both to MPD and sworn members of the department and their collective bargaining unit consistent with the 30-day limit now in place for cases referred to the Office of Employee Appeals.
- To reduce the cost to the D.C. government of lengthy appeals, MPD should work with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to develop written criteria for whether to appeal termination cases including a financial risk assessment.
- MPD should stop ignoring court orders and reinstate terminated employees in a timely fashion when so ordered.
- As part of the required annual report on misconduct and grievances, MPD should analyze the disciplinary data from the prior year to assess trends in misconduct and guide initiatives that reduce misconduct.
Gregg Pemberton, chairman of the DC Police Union, lambasted the report, calling it a cover-up for the police chief. He added that, despite the list of recommendations offered, it didn’t suggest ways to improve MPD.
“What we find incredibly concerning is that the auditor seems to find mountains of wrongdoing, incompetence and outright failure throughout MPD management but makes almost no effort to correct them,” Pemberton said.
The DC Police Union put out a news release with reaction to the audit. That release concluded with the statement: “This completely biased report with its overly broad conclusions is just another political swipe at police officers and their rights. Any citizen of the District who is fed up with rising crime and a diminishing police department should question this completely inflammatory and partisan report.”
In response to the report, the Metropolitan Police Department provided DC News Now with the following statement:
The Metropolitan Police Department appreciates the work of the DC Auditor analyzing personnel reinstatements. MPD is concerned about the reinstatement of any member terminated for misconduct and the impact on public safety and trust. Recent legislation has addressed some of our long standing concerns about ambiguous laws related to discipline and an arbitration system that has contributed to the return of unsuitable police officers. The audit highlights this problem and the challenges faced by MPD. The Department supports the recommendations and will work with our partners to implement them.Metropolitan Police Department
You’ll find the full news release from the DC Police Union below.