Special Session Results in Police Reform Measures – And a Sea Change in Law Enforcement Arbitration

The killing of George Floyd and surrounding activism resulted in focused efforts during Minnesota’s latest legislative session and accompanying special sessions to create additional standards for peace officers and public safety departments.  During the final hours of the session, legislators were able to come to a compromise on legislation that affects all police and sheriff’s departments across the state.

The portion of the act that is of most interest to us and our clients is the change to arbitration hearing procedure for peace officer discipline.  The legislature has made the decision to create a six-person, statewide panel of arbitrators to decide matters of peace officer grievances over written disciplinary action, discharge, or termination.

To summarize the change, employers and unions are no longer allowed to utilize any previously agreed-upon panels or utilize the arbitrator striking process typically used in Minnesota collective bargaining situations.  Rather, an arbitrator will be assigned to the case by the BMS from a pre-established list of arbitrators who are assigned to no other arbitration cases in Minnesota other than police officer disciplines.  These arbitrators serve three-year terms, and must receive training on racism, implicit bias, and the daily experiences of peace officers.

Employers and unions are barred from negotiating any alternative grievance procedure contrary to that established under this act.  All peace officer collective bargaining agreements negotiated after enactment of the act are required to include the statutory arbitrator selection process.  This change takes effect September 1, 2020.

It is clear that the legislature heard the concerns of those parties who use arbitration frequently and were worried about the possibility of arbitrators not making decisions on the merits of a case, but rather on keeping a balanced decision count to appear more neutral.  The goal, with the way the panel is set up, is that arbitrators on the panel will no longer have to worry about being selected in the future, as they will be guaranteed cases due to their position on the panel, and will therefore make the decision that is most fair.  However, one wonders which arbitrators will apply for these positions, as they will be barred from participating in any other grievance arbitration (and their compensation will be determined by the state).  We shall soon find out.

This is a fairly sweeping law that makes changes to many aspects of law enforcement personnel management, training, data practices, and disciplinary procedures, and employers are not being given much time to adjust.  We, at the Wiley Law Office, are equipped to provide the expertise necessary to assist in the implementation of those changes right now.  If you, or your organization, are in need of assistance in complying with these new laws, contact the Wiley Law Office, for Peace Officer management experience that works.