The question whether or not officers should be allowed representation during these compelled interviews is more of a reflection of the professionalism and the ability of the police organization to follow formal rules and procedures rather than the act of the officer(s) being investigated. The notion of having legal and/or union representation during these interviews is a safeguard and protects the officer against a malicious or wayward organization. When officers are sworn in to become the police, the last thing on their mind is being formally investigated with the possibility of being fired. Although officers are accustomed to the formalities of the criminal process, most, if not all, are unfamiliar with the administrative hearings called for during an internal investigation. In Illinois, police officers are awarded certain rights under state statute. One of these rights is the Uniform Peace Officers’ Disciplinary Act (50 ILCS 725/1-8). Under the Uniform Peace Officers’ Disciplinary Act (UPODA), officers who are interrogated during a formal investigation have the “right to be represented by counsel of his or her choosing and may request counsel at any time before or during interrogation” (50 ILCS 725/3.9). Interrogations are the questioning of the officer pursuant to a formal investigation where the intention of the investigation is to gather evidence of misconduct, which may result in the removal, discharge, or suspension in excess of three days for the officer(s). Furthermore, unlike Tennessee, UPODA addresses collective bargaining agreements between officers and the municipality they work for. UPODA states if the collective bargaining agreement requires the presence of a union representative during investigations, a union representative shall be present during the interrogation, unless the officer waives this requirement (50 ILCS 725/3.9). UPODA exists to ensure the rights of the officer of the officer are not violated, holding the investigators and the police organization accountable.
Janie Parks Varnell, illustrated the need for representation for the officer during these formal interviews. Varnell is a private attorney, representing peace officers in and around the city of Chattanooga, TN. Tennessee is a right to work state and police departments, such as Chattanooga, police officers do not have a union contract with the city (Campaign Zero – Connect with Chattanooga). Debates can be had for or against unions, but one of the aspects of having a union is the ability to negotiate workers contracts through collective bargaining. In the examples given by Varnell what I would term, “bad organizational tactics”, were from the city of Collegedale, which is a suburb of Chattanooga. Collegedale had lawsuits filed against them by former employees for retaliation. In short, officers had been terminated for questioning the illegal quota system Collegedale had in place. Courts ruled in favor of the officers, but it was the lack of consistency with the department’s internal affairs policies and procedures that ultimately won the officer’s their jobs back. It is the lack of accountability in these cases which highlights the necessity of having representation for the officer, or at the very least, to provide some semblance of fairness on the officers side. It is for these reasons, officers should have some form of representation, whether it be legal counsel and/or a union representative during interviews for formal investigations.
UPODA and the rights of police officers is one area where Illinois legislation has gotten it correct and is in favor of police officers. Not having these rights granted by the state statute can have a negative impact on what can be a career ending investigation for an officer. Having representation during those interviews is a means to hold both sides accountable and keep the process fair for those few officers that are subjected to the internal affairs process.