For real police reform, stop letting police union contracts override state law

July 15, 2020

Union contracts prevail in Illinois, preventing meaningful police reform


MEDIA CONTACT: Rachel Wittel (312) 607-4977

For real police reform, stop letting police union contracts override state law
Union contracts prevail in Illinois, preventing meaningful police reform

CHICAGO (July 15, 2020) – Illinois can answer the nationwide call for police reform by striking a statewide provision that allows collective bargaining agreements negotiated by police union leaders to override state laws.

Section 15 is a provision hidden near the end of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, or IPLRA, detailing how state law must yield to union contracts, including those within police departments, if there are conflicts. That means if any reforms run counter to a police union’s contract – such as making it easier to discipline or fire problematic officers, amending the police “bill of rights” or ending the use of police chokeholds – then the union contract will prevail. This applies to police departments across Illinois.

In Chicago, police are operating under an expired collective bargaining agreement, and the Fraternal Order of Police, or FOP, needs a new contract with the city. If Chicago and other cities across Illinois truly want to root out egregious policies protecting police misconduct, the measure granting unions greater power than state law must change.

The Chicago Police Department and its contract with the FOP provide a case study of what these problematic provisions mean for police reform in Illinois.

Problematic FOP contract provision powers currently include:

  • Controlling which complaints are investigatedThe U.S. Department of Justice found Chicago fails to investigate nearly half of police misconduct complaints because of FOP contract provisions such as limiting investigations of accused officers whose complainants are anonymous and requiring complainants to sign an “appropriate affidavit,” confirming under oath that their allegations are true.
  • Access to information and aid in shaping investigation statementsFOP provisions also hinder investigations that move forward after a signed and sworn affidavit is filed. Accused officers can be provided with a copy of any and all recorded or written statements they made within 72 hours of when the statement was made. An officer may even be allowed to review video or audio evidence related to the alleged incident prior to making his or her statement.

Impeding public access to investigation records

FOP contract provisions allow for investigation records pertaining to disciplinary files to be destroyed after a certain time, meaning information cannot be used against the officer in any future proceedings. Misconduct incidents, in which there is no disciplinary action, are removed from an officer’s record after just one year. Meanwhile, disciplinary files for “Police Board cases” are destroyed after five years, and “not sustained files alleging criminal conduct or excessive force” are retained for a period of seven years after the incident or violation.


Mailee Smith, staff attorney and director of labor policy at the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute, offered the following statement: 

“Unfortunately, George Floyd is just one in a long line of victims of police brutality. Chicago stands as its own case study for a history of violent police misconduct. While some police reforms are intended to protect both citizens and the reputations of officers who serve honorably from the misconduct of bad police, those reforms will prove meaningless as long as provisions in police union contracts can overpower reforms.

“In order to see real police reform and justice in Chicago and throughout the state of Illinois, state leaders have to be willing to strike down Section 15 as it applies to peace officers and enact limits in collective bargaining agreements. If the Illinois General Assembly refuses to take up these reforms next session, it will fall to local leaders – including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot – to refuse to negotiate problematic provisions into subsequent contracts.”

To read more about the need to root out problematic provisions in police union contracts, visit:

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