Imagine if it were you, demanding your old job back.
Imagine your chances at reinstatement after getting fired for, say, beating up your girlfriend or hiding drugs in your car or calling in sick to cover a fun jaunt down in Mexico.
Imagine telling your boss that you’re entitled another chance even though, on a night you were supposed to be working, you had consumed six vodka-and-cranberry cocktails and danced drunkenly around a nightclub with your hand on a half-holstered pistol.
Imagine demanding your boss rehire you after getting caught, yet again, napping on the job. Or lying on sworn court documents. Or inadvertently shooting someone at a party while you were drunkenly trying to pistol-whip someone else. Or beating your ex-girlfriend so severely that her jaw was dislocated. Or running two delivery trucks off the road — not the first time — in a fit of road rage.
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Imagine telling your employer, with a straight face, that you failed a random drug test because of a mysterious cream — obtained from an “old Cuban guy” — that you had rubbed on your genitals as a kind of erectile dysfunction folk cure. “Having never knowingly used cocaine, I was baffled, perplexed and confused,” explained Reinaldo Casas.
Outlandish? Yes. Would his explanation get more than a laugh in a normal workplace? Not a chance. But Casas was a cop with a union lawyer and the right to an arbitration system as permissive as a Palm Beach momma dealing with a spoiled child. The Miami Beach Police Department had fired Detective Casas for good reason. At least in the real world. But an arbitrator ordered the city to rehire the detective, complete with back pay.
All the circumstances cited above involved cops. All of the officers were fired for serious transgressions. Yet all of them, with legal help provided by police unions, were reinstated by arbitrators. In an era marred by considerable mistrust of the police, arbitrators have been returning scores of dodgy officers to duty. Last year, U.S. News and World Report found that arbitrators reverse or ease discipline for police misconduct in some 60 percent of the cases they hear nationally.
A 2014 report by the Atlantic warned that the police arbitration system was “geared to protect labor rights rather than public safety.” And that “cops deemed unqualified by their own bosses are put back on the streets. Their colleagues get the message” that police are “all but impervious to termination.”
Forbes cited a study out of Philadelphia that looked at 26 cases of police firings because of domestic violence, excessive force, retail theft and on-duty intoxication. Nineteen of those officers were put back to work. A similar study in Oakland, according to the San Jose Mercury News, looked at 15 disciplinary cases. Arbitrators rescinded punishment in seven cases, and reduced punishment in five others, including giving an Oakland cop back his badge, never mind that he had shot unarmed men in questionable circumstances twice in seven months.
The Pittsburgh City Paper reported that out of nine Pittsburgh cops fired in a four-year stretch, five were reinstated — including the drunken officer who accidentally shot a bystander at a party while pistol-whipping someone else.
Miami fired nine dodgy cops in the last three years, but arbitrators reinstated all but one.
Cop firings are even more tenuous in South Florida. Last week, my colleague David Ovalle reported that arbitrators have upheld the termination of a Miami police officer only once in the last three years. Meanwhile, eights cops were reinstated, including officers who had been zapped for shooting an unarmed motorist, sleeping on duty and refusing to cooperate in a murder investigation. One cop had shot up his own house in a drunken rage.
Florida International University tried to fire campus cop Frederick Currie twice after a series of transgressions, including three arrests for domestic violence. Arbitrators in that infamous case kept Currie on the job until 2006, when he was sent to prison for sexually assaulting a young woman while he was on duty.
Over the years, Opa-locka attempted to fire Sgt. German Bosque six times on various complaints about excessive force, misuse of police firearms, hiding drugs in his patrol car and calling in sick while he was actually off enjoying a holiday in Mexico. Five times, Bosque was reinstated. Now, the sixth firing begins to look shaky after prosecutors dropped witness-tampering charges against Bosque last month.
Similar cases have popped up across Florida in recent years, including a fired cop reinstated in Orlando in November, despite video showing him kicking and punching a handcuffed prisoner. And there was the Lakeland cop who was returned to work despite a series of on-duty sexual escapades, including charges from a co-worker that he had coerced her into having sex on his office desk. This was 15 years after this same cop was disciplined for having an unsavory relationship with a high school intern.
Yet he’s back at work. Imagine running that by the folks down in Human Resources.