Court Backs Commish on Interrogating Cops

The state's highest court ruled today that New York City's Police Commissioner has total authority over disciplinary rules and doesn't have to bargain over them in talks with the cop unions. In simple terms, this ends the long fight over the 48-hour rule.

The rule granted cops two days to talk to a lawyer before being questioned in an NYPD investigation. It was long the subject of police critics' scorn because it gave a cop who had, say, shot a guy a bunch of times a chance to square his story with his buddies. In the days of Louima and Diallo, critics from Al Sharpton to Human Rights Watch to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights denounced the rule as an obstacle to policing the police.

Cops and their allies defended it, citing the unique legal position of NYPD officers. An NYPD report from the Giuliani era asserted that it was a "myth that the 48-hour rule is a right that is available to police officers and not to members of the general public." In fact, cops really don't have the same right as civilians to remain silent because, "officers interrogated by the department who refuse to answer face dismissal." But even under Rudy, the NYPD was looking to scrap the policy. Eventually, the Bloomberg administration began referring to it as "infamous."

When the city tried to take the rule and other disciplinary matters off the bargaining table in 2002, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association appealed to the state Public Employee Relations Board, which enforces the Taylor Law. As every veteran of the 2005 transit strike will recall, the Taylor statute bars public employees from striking. In exchange, PERB is supposed to protect those workers. But in the PBA case, PERB sided with the city. Now, three levels of state courts have as well.

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The Taylor Law is designed to put almost everything on the table when public employees are negotiating a contract. But the Court of Appeals found that, "While the Taylor Law policy favoring collective bargaining is a strong one, so is the policy favoring the authority of public officials over the police."

According to today's ruling, the other disciplinary matters covered by the ruling included the union's request "that a pilot program would be established to refer disciplinary matters to an agency outside the police department, and that employees charged but not found guilty could petition to have the records of disciplinary proceedings expunged."

Those who are justifiably suspicious of the fuzz will rejoice at the demise of the 48-hour rule. There's no denying it looked damn fishy in cases like Diallo. But as a practical matter, it's also undeniable that many New York cops feel their rights as workers are under fire: by the arbitrator who decided on salaries last year, by the commissioner in his policing of officers' speech, and now by the highest court in the state.


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