Citizens’ Police Oversight Committees
POAM President Jim Tignanelli describes what citizens’ police oversight committees are and how they operate in Michigan in the latest podcast episode. Listen to the full episode now, or read the transcription below.
Warning, warning, warning, warning, warning. It’s the Police Officer’s Association of Michigan Podcast radio show. Recorded live in the studios in Redford, Michigan. POAM is a full-service labor organization formed to provide every labor-related service from negotiations, grievance processing, legal, and legislative representation to Act 312 Arbitrations.
POAM President Jim Tignanelli
Something new that’s surfacing around Michigan that I had seen in other states, in the Portlands and Seattles and Chicagos and such, are what are referred to as citizens police oversight committees. And the citizens’ police oversight committee generally, and I’ll give you an example of one that does exist in Ann Arbor because I’m most familiar with it. The citizens’ police oversight committee in Ann Arbor are civilians that are appointed. So they’re not elected officials. Really they’re appointed by elected officials generally. And that seems to be the trend in Ann Arbor.
And the citizens’ police oversight committee wants information from personnel files. Actually, in Ann Arbor, they have encouraged the elected officials who vote on the contracts to eliminate grievance arbitration for discipline. So in other words, if you’re charged you would be like a civilian trying to defend yourself, but not even able to take it to an independent arbitrator to make a decision on the validity of the discipline.
So they have actually in Ann Arbor overcome many of the city council people by basically threatening to take them out of office, organizing an effort to get rid of them out of office. And in Ann Arbor, where we had a three-year contract already tentatively agreed to, the police oversight committee went in and demanded that it become a one-year contract – that it was going to expire this December instead of December two years hence – and they threatened the city council with a removal. And the city council basically succumbed to that pressure.
When they came back to us though, however, again I’d say I’m not sure many independent organizations or smaller unions would have been able to battle this, but we filed it for arbitration through Public Act 312. We’ve got plenty of attorneys on hand, plenty of guys that are eager to do the job. And when I went to 312, we went through mediation and when we filed it for 312, we basically said, “We’re going to take this for three years. And the police oversight committee is going to get nothing out of this.”
And we did prevail. We got a three-year contract. We’re okay for now. Now the police oversight committee continues to rustle the leaves out there, but having POAM at the helm is a lot of support. And you need to be careful about these civilians that are able to overcome elected people by threatening to get them unelected. And there is something to be said that once a person is elected, the worst thing that could ever happen to them is that they get unelected. I don’t know. I don’t care what the job pays, nobody wants to lose.
So you need a powerful union like POAM behind you on this because these guys are literally, these groups are literally taking over the elected officials. In Ann Arbor, some of these kids are barely old enough to vote. I say kids – they’re not all kids – but there are some on this board that is very young people that are deciding what they want to know about what police officers do. They want the names of everybody that any citizen’s complaint is made on. They want to know how many arrests are made. I mean, they really want to dig into it.
Frankly, I’m surprised that the chief out there and I’ve mentioned this to him. I think this is basically an assault on him because if I’m the chief. I should be able to determine what level of discipline my officers need, if any, and how the operation of the department will be. But right now, the chief is basically being ordered around by this police oversight committee. And I wish him well. I think he’s an honorable guy, but I think he’s under a lot of pressure. Having POAM around is going to keep our guys safe out there. As long as we can, we’ll keep battling.
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