Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey on Friday said he was temporarily halting all disciplinary actions against problem officers in response to a labor board ruling against his department.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board handed Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 a victory, rescinding some of the changes the department made in its disciplinary code in 2010.
The board upheld most of the new code, but its hearing officer said punishments in more than half of the department's 107 disciplinary rules needed to be decided through bargaining with Lodge 5.
The board made the ruling in response to a complaint filed by Lodge 5 immediately after the changes were introduced in 2010.
Legal experts have praised the 2010 code, which replaced some rules that date back a half-century. For the first time, the 2010 rules prohibited sexual and racial harassment as well as engaging in sexual relations while on duty.
"The changes were entirely reasonable, and modern policing requires them," University of Pennsylvania law professor David Rudovsky said Friday. "They all appear within national standards."
Ramsey, who was attending a law enforcement conference in San Francisco, said in an interview the 6,500-officer department would postpone issuing punishments for wayward officers until it could get clarity on last week's ruling.
He said allegations of police wrongdoing were still being investigated by the department's Internal Affairs unit.
Under normal circumstances, if Internal Affairs sustains allegations against an officer, the investigation goes to the department's charging unit - which determines which departmental regulations were violated. The charging unit typically handles 500 to 700 cases a year, officials said.
Ramsey said for the time being, the charging unit would not any take action and the cases would not advance. "We are not pushing cases," he said, explaining that he wanted to know whether infractions should be charged under the new rules or the pre-2010 regulations. He did not clarify how long disciplinary actions might be postponed. "I'm not angry. I'm not bitter," he said. "I'm disappointed."
Some of the confusion about the Labor Relations Board ruling was generated by the union.
This week, it posted notices in each police district stating: "The disciplinary code implemented by the department in 2010 has been stricken down. . . . All discipline handed down under the code is null & void."
Union lawyer Thomas W. Jennings said that the notices were posted only briefly and that similar information on the Lodge 5 website was up for no more than about an hour. But it attracted attention.
He said he received a joyous call from a fired officer who thought he could get his job back after reading the union's mischaracterization of the ruling. Jennings said he told the man, "Under any rules, you're still fired."
Still, Jennings said, the decision will retroactively affect some disciplinary action the department has taken since 2010. He said it was too early to determine how many cases might be impacted.
Ramsey's decision to postpone disciplinary action until the board ruling is clarified makes good sense, Jennings said. "That's the smart thing to do."
He said the dispute should have been resolved years ago through negotiation rather than bringing in lawyers to address the Labor Relations Board.
"The FOP is nothing if not reasonable," Jennings said. "We'd much rather talk to them than litigate."
Shannon D. Farmer, one of the lawyers who worked with the city on the labor board case, said the city still had not decided whether it would appeal the hearing officer's ruling.
She said the city has 20 days to file its concerns about the ruling with the full labor board, which could take several months to make a final decision.