In my previous post about the FOP Legal Plan and the NOPD disciplinary system, I reviewed some general things about disciplinary investigations and the FOP’s Legal Defense Plan. I discussed notice, the FOP’s Salary Reimbursement Option, Extension Requests, and a few other things. This time, I am going to assume that the investigation has been completed – you and your FOP attorney have made a statement to the investigator and the investigator is ready to recommend a disposition.
The NOPD requires that the investigator issue NOPD Form 308 to the accused officer as the last step in the investigation before sending the case up the chain of command for review. NOPD Form 308 bears the title Notice to Accused Law Enforcement Officer Under Investigation of Completed Investigation. While the title of this form has changed a number of times over the years, the purpose has not. As I mentioned in the prior post, La. R.S. 40:2531(b)(7) requires that an investigation be completed within 60 days (120 days max). The statute says that the investigation will be considered complete upon notice to the law enforcement officer under investigation of a not sustained or unfounded disposition or notice of a pre-disciplinary hearing. NOPD Form 308 purports to cover all of these circumstances, thereby marking the end of the investigation. The investigator completes this form without approvals up the chain of command. Therefore, the disposition(s) can change.
NOPD Form 308 includes dates for a Pre-Disposition Conference and a Pre-Disciplinary Hearing, as well as each charge that was alleged and the disposition recommended by the investigator for that charge. Since the investigator does not know who is going to hold either of these hearings or the content of the hearing officer’s calendar, these dates are simply made up. As of this date, I have not seen a pre-disposition conference or a pre-disciplinary hearing held on the dates found on NOPD Form 308.
If the disposition on all charges is Not Sustained, Unfounded, or Exonerated (or any combination thereof), there will not be any type of hearing to come. I have had a number of questions in that regard lately. The NOPD does not conduct a pre-disposition conference or a pre-disciplinary hearing on any case with no sustained allegations.
If there is an allegation with a sustained disposition, then there will be at least one, and maybe two, hearings that follow. Depending on who conducted the investigation, the accused officer will receive either a Notice of Pre-Disposition Conference or a Notice of Pre-Disciplinary Hearing, or both.
If someone assigned to PIB conducted the administrative investigation and the potential penalty is not severe, then PIB will conduct the Pre-Disposition Conference and the Bureau to which the accused officer is assigned will conduct the Pre-Disciplinary Hearing. In that case, the accused officer will be issued a Notice of Pre-Disposition Conference by PIB at least 5 days prior to the hearing. If at the conclusion of the Pre-Disposition Conference there are still sustained allegations, then the accused officer will receive a Notice of Pre-Disciplinary Hearing a few weeks after the Pre-Disposition Conference either from the Division where the accused officer is assigned.
If the investigation is conducted by someone from the accused officer’s Bureau (usually the same Division) and the potential penalty is not severe, then the Pre-Disposition Conference and the Pre-Disciplinary Hearing will be conducted by the accused officer’s commander. These two hearings will be conducted together.
If the potential penalty for any sustained violation is severe (usually a 30-day suspension or greater), then the Pre-Disposition Conference and the Pre-Disciplinary Hearing are conducted together by a Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee. A Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee is chaired by the accused officer’s Bureau Chief and consists of the accused officer’s Bureau Chief and two (2) other Bureau Chiefs.
The purpose of a Pre-Disposition Conference is to finalize the investigator’s recommended disposition. The accused officer should be given notice of what alleged violations were sustained and why they were sustained. This notice would be found on the Notice of Pre-Disposition Conference. It is not on NOPD Form 308. The purpose of this hearing is to give the accused officer an opportunity to respond to the allegations sustained against him or her and, hopefully, eliminate any mistaken sustained allegations. At this hearing, the accused officer has the chance to explain why the sustained charges should not have been sustained.
It is important to note that the accused officer has the option of waiving the Pre-Disposition Conference. Commonly, the Notice of Pre-Disposition Conference is emailed along with a form which can be used to waive the Notice of Pre-Disposition Conference. If the accused officer waives the Pre-Disposition Conference, then all of the charges that were recommended sustained by the investigator will remain sustained. DO NOT WAIVE THIS PRE-DISPOSITION CONFERENCE WITHOUT CONFERRING WITH COUNSEL. I have seen where accused officers have inadvertently waived the Pre-Disposition Conference. Make sure you read what you are signing before signing.
If, at the conclusion of the Pre-Disposition Conference, there are still sustained violations, the accused officer will have to attend a Pre-Disciplinary Hearing. The purpose of the Pre-Disciplinary Hearing is to give the accused officer the opportunity to give any mitigating factors and for the accused officer’s commander to recommend a penalty to the Superintendent. The disposition of the alleged violations cannot be changed at this hearing. The penalty is derived from the penalty matrix found in NOPD Chapter 26.2.1, which contains a presumptive penalty, a penalty with mitigating factors, and a penalty with aggravating factors. The penalty recommended by the accused officer’s commander can only be implemented by the Superintendent and is occasionally (not too often) altered by someone up the chain of command.
Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee
If the potential penalty includes a suspension in excess of 30 days, demotion, or dismissal (termination), then the hearings are conducted together by a Disciplinary Committee. A Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee is chaired by the accused officer’s Bureau Chief. Two other Bureau Chiefs will fill out the three-member committee. At that hearing the accused officer is given the opportunity to explain why the charges should not be sustained, as well as the opportunity to offer mitigating factors that might influence the disposition or penalty. It is possible for an allegation which has relatively minor potential penalties to be heard via Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee if there is another accused officer with potentially severe penalties.
The Louisiana Constitution requires that any disciplinary action taken against a permanent, classified civil service employee be with “cause expressed in writing.” As such, the disciplinary process is not completed until either the Superintendent signs off on dispositions of Not Sustained, Exonerated or Unfounded, or the accused officer is issued a disciplinary letter from the Superintendent. If the accused officer is dismissed (terminated), then the accused officer will be given the disciplinary letter the same day. If there is any other penalty assessed other than termination, then the accused officer will be required to sign for a disciplinary letter some time later. It could be 6 months later or longer. The disciplinary letter will indicate when the imposed discipline must be served. Since the disciplinary letter constitutes the end of the disciplinary process, any appeals to the Civil Service Commission must follow issuance of the letter. An accused officer has 30 days from the date typed on top of the disciplinary letter to file an appeal. Since the Civil Service Commission has original and sole jurisdiction over these matters, disciplinary actions taken in accordance with Civil Service Rule IX can only be appealed to the Civil Service Commission. The disciplinary letter further serves to limit any subsequent proceedings to the grounds specified in the letter.
As you can see, there is a lot to the disciplinary process. For FOP members who do not deal with the disciplinary process every day, it can be a lot to take in. Most officers simply aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of the process because they don’t often have to interact with it. In addition, it has been my experience that most officers who are quick to explain how the system works provide as much misinformation as they do quality information. Fortunately, the FOP provides attorneys to help its members navigate the tricky waters of the disciplinary process. Pick up the phone and call. That’s all you have to do and I will be more than happy to help.
Next time… Critical Incidents and Criminal Investigations.