I have been trying to keep everyone up to speed on the recent changes to the NOPD disciplinary system. I have written on such topics as the new penalty matrix and the way progressive discipline functions in the new system. I have also written about some of the excessive penalties that have resulted from the new system. I have also recently been told that the NOPD plans on revising the system to alleviate some of the pressure placed on the department by handing out 20-day suspensions like they were candy. One thing I feel like I have not really touched on are hearings in the current system. It needs to be discussed because people have been signing documents entitled “Waiver of Predisposition Conference.”
If you are sustained for a violation of the rules and regulations of the NOPD, there will be 2 disciplinary hearings. Under some circumstances those hearings could be handled as one. An officer sustained for a violation of the rules and regulations of the NOPD pursuant to a formal disciplinary investigation will be required to attend a pre-disposition conference and a pre-disciplinary hearing.
The pre-disposition conference is an officer’s chance to submit evidence or convince the hearing officer that the charges should not have a disposition of sustained. If the investigation is conducted by PIB, then PIB will conduct the pre-disposition conference. If someone in the officer’s chain of command conducts the investigation, then the officer’s commander or bureau chief will conduct the pre-disposition conference. The pre-disposition conference will be the ONLY chance to change the disposition of the investigation.
If an officer chooses to waive the pre-disposition conference, that officer is pleading guilty to the charges. One would sign this form if one wanted to waive the pre-disposition conference. Make sure you read through this form fully. Of course, it could just say “I plead guilty to all of the charges no matter how ridiculous and request that I be suspended forthwith.” If an officer is going to plead guilty, that officer would be well-served to do that in the beginning as part of a negotiated settlement in order to at least secure a reduction in the penalty. It is my belief that officers are waiving these hearings, and thereby waiving their due process, without giving much thought to it. I do not recommend anyone waive a pre-disposition conference without a really good reason.
The pre-disciplinary hearing follows the pre-disposition conference, assuming the disposition of the case remains sustained following the pre-disposition conference. The pre-disciplinary hearing is conducted by someone in the officer’s chain of command. Most pre-disciplinary hearings will be conducted by the officer’s commander. More serious violations will result in pre-disciplinary hearings conducted by one’s bureau chief. If the investigation was conducted by someone in the officer’s chain of command, then the officer’s commander or bureau chief may conduct both of these hearings in the same sitting.
If you are not sure why I chose to write this relatively short article on these two hearings, the answer is don’t waive pre-disposition conferences. If you are presented with a document to sign and you aren’t quite sure what to do about it, pick up the phone. It is better to be informed than to be giving away rights unknowingly. If, after discussing the matter with someone who knows what they are talking about, you choose to sign the waiver, then there is a good reason for it. Remember, most of the advice you get from your fellow officers that does not include “call your FOP attorney” is wrong.