Kelly, at Kelly & Lemmons in St. Paul, represents police and veterans, as well as prosecutes for multiple cities in Ramsey County and represents unions in labor issues, arbitrations and mediations.
The rights of state, county and municipality employees are governed by various unions and detailed due process in the event of an adverse employment event. But it is frequently the police whose conflicts come to light.
There are complete due process steps available to police officers, said Kelly.
Civilian review boards in St. Paul and Minneapolis receive complaints about police and make recommendations to the police chief, who decides discipline. The Peace Officer Discipline Act, Minn. Stat. sec. 626.89, governs investigations and due process rights of officers. The complaint may ultimately be arbitrated, using arbitrators chosen from a list only for peace officers. An arbitration can be appealed in court. “The statute creates more rights for both parties,” Kelly said.
In addition, a collective bargaining agreement may allow for a grievance procedure or a veteran’s preference procedure. The Public Employee Labor Relations Act applies to peace officers.
“The arbitration process has been blamed for ‘bad cops’ but independent, experienced arbitrators review the case for just cause,” Kelly said. He said that studies have shown that police are successful in 56% of arbitrations, compared to 54% for nonpolice employees. “The arbitration system isn’t broken,” Kelly said.
Kelly calls for a tempered view of police discipline. Mere complaints against officers can be career-enders, he said. “A violation of police procedure should not (automatically) mean termination. The question is whether the officer can be rehabilitated.”
Kelly also noted that there is a spectrum of possible violations against the excessive use of force, ranging from tight handcuffs to deadly force. The data practices law makes complaints public but not the underlying facts, he said.
He had an excessive force case where the police officer yelled at someone, Kelly said. The arbitration system provides the potential for fair play for everyone, he added.