Part 143 states in its opening paragraph, “The purpose of this chapter is to secure efficient fire departments composed of capable personnel who are free from political influence and who have permanent employment tenure as public servants.” This is where the discipline subparagraphs come into play, to secure permanent tenure. Currently we have many layers of discipline ranging from informal to formal. Civil Service however only consists of formal discipline administered by the Civil Service Commission. I think that it is important to point out that the Chief currently does not administer discipline, the Assistant Chiefs do. The Chief either passes it to the arbitrator or reduces the finding. So understanding these simple facts let’s go to civil service.
In Civil Service the Chief will submit an infraction to the civil service commissioner, in a timely manner. Facts can be submitted, but only infractions that have been in the last 180 days can be included. That is all that can be considered. The Commissioner will convene the civil service board, and review the offense and the personnel file. Remember this: para 143.089 3b “A letter, memorandum or document relating to alleged misconduct…may not be placed in the person’s personnel file.” Both sides present to the commission, and the commission has the ability to dismiss the charge, give a 15 day suspension or an indefinite suspension. That is all. The firefighter can impose a suspension of 16-90 days on him/herself. The last step for Civil Service is to appeal to a district court.
Currently under “Home Rule” there is informal and formal discipline. Informal discipline is given by the supervisor, and starts with counseling, and if the behavior continues, he gets an oral reprimand. That is all there is to informal discipline. If the behavior continues, then formal discipline is utilized. A written reprimand is the next step by an assistant chief or supervising chief. Next is a suspension, again by the assistant chief or supervising chief. Next is a demotion, always administered by a panel of assistant chiefs. And lastly is dismissal, again administered by a panel of assistant chiefs. The Chief can either reduce the decision or agree. All formal discipline can be appealed to a third party arbitrator.
As you can see there are several levels of discipline used in the current system. The civil service only recognizes infractions of a serious nature, and disregards minor infractions that go unpunished. These minor infractions could lead to serious injury if unaddressed.
One of our Union firefighters wrote: “Members are disciplined at an alarming rate with punishments far exceeding the circumstances.” This is simply not true! A comparison reviewing former Chief Paulsgrove’s discipline record compared to Chief Crowson’s, shows that Crowson’s disciplinary actions were 23% less than Paulsgrove’s for the same amount of time. Concerning the disciplinary actions severity, Crowson has had 4 arbitrations in 6.5 yrs. Only one was reduced by an arbitrator. Remember that the Chief doesn’t set the level of punishment, the assistant chiefs do.
I think that the difference in the two systems is best represented by Officer James Dunn’s case in Ft. Worth, which is civil service. Six years ago Officer Dunn was writing tickets and changing the times so that he could claim overtime that he hadn’t worked. Essentially stealing money that he didn’t earn from Ft. Worth taxpayers. He was reinstated because his supervisor didn’t catch the mistakes. He was awarded all back pay, $400,000 and given his job back.
Arlington recently had 16 officers that were falsely documenting fake traffic stops. All 16 officers turned in their badges and will never be a police officer in the state of Texas again. Voters will have an opportunity to select which system they want in the future. I will be voting NO for civil service on 24 April, the first day of early voting. Election day is May 6th.