Police union contracts prevent reform in Illinois’ biggest cities

April 22, 2021

Union contracts override state law when it comes to carrying out officer discipline


MEDIA CONTACT: Melanie Krakauer (312) 607-4977

Police union contracts prevent reform in Illinois’ biggest cities
Union contracts override state law when it comes to carrying out officer discipline

CHICAGO (April 22, 2021) – Despite statewide calls and proposals to enact police reform, new research shows Illinois is home to policies that prevent reform from sticking.

Illinois labor law contains a provision that elevates collective bargaining agreements above state law. Section 15, hidden near the end of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act, or IPLRA, explicitly states union-negotiated contracts, such as police contracts, override all other state laws and regulations. That prevents misconduct investigations and reforms in police departments, as well as in other state and local governments.

Analysis from the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute found the 10 largest municipalities in Illinois, outside Chicago, all have provisions in their police collective bargaining agreements that would undermine internal investigations and officer discipline. Until Section 15 is amended, research shows police reform enacted by the state would be meaningless in Aurora, Naperville, Joliet, Rockford, Springfield, Elgin, Peoria, Champaign, Waukegan and Cicero. This is true of Chicago, too.

Meanwhile, two bills could help reforms gain meaning. House Bill 3891 would exclude police union contracts from the language in Section 15, meaning those contracts would no longer have more power than state laws. House Bill 3892 would limit negotiation by police unions to compensation only, preventing contracts from including disciplinary provisions.

How police contracts prevent discipline in Illinois’ biggest cities:

  • All 10 of Illinois’ largest municipalities have provisions in their union contracts subjecting officer discipline to a lengthy appeal procedure. That means discipline could be overruled by an unelected arbitrator. Police departments can be forced to rehire or retain officers who have engaged in misconduct.
  • All municipalities allow for the destruction of some or all records pertaining to disciplinary files after a certain amount of time. If records are destroyed, previous officer incidents may not be taken into account when considering discipline.
  • Six of the largest municipalities in Illinois have union contract provisions restricting the timing of interrogations in ways that favor the accused officer. The most common restriction is the interrogation must be conducted at a “reasonable hour” or “reasonable time.”
  • Six of Illinois’ largest municipalities mandate certain information be given to an accused officer before an interrogation. In Rockford, Waukegan and Cicero, the accused officer must be given the names of complainants before the interrogation.
  • Four municipalities prohibit investigations of police misconduct if based upon anonymous complaints. The contracts in Rockford and Springfield explicitly require complaints be accompanied by a sworn affidavit.

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

“Despite calls for reform from around the state and nation, one of the biggest obstacles to police reform persists in Illinois: police unions can undermine efforts to investigate and discipline problem officers through collective bargaining agreements. This is true even of some reforms passed earlier this year.

“Police chiefs and departments across Illinois must have the discretion to root out police misconduct, and thereby also protect the reputations of the majority of officers who serve honorably. But they can’t do that as long as the measure granting unions greater power than state law remains.”

To read more about police union contracts in Illinois’ cities, visit: illin.is/policereform.

For bookings or interviews, contact media@illinoispolicy.org or (312) 607-4977.