Yesterday, the New York Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision in Town of Wallkill v. Town of Wallkill CSEA. The Court of Appeals held that towns in New York State are prohibited from negotiating the issue of police discipline with their police officers, or their officers' bargaining unit.
Relying on an earlier decision, the Court found that where legislation was in place, in this instance section 155 of the Town Law, that commits police discipline to the discretion of local officials, local governments are prohibited, by statute and as a matter of public policy, from bargaining away that exclusive right to discipline police officers.
The importance of the decision cannot be overstated. Town boards are responsible to hire, train and supervise their police officers. They are responsible for the actions of those officers. Yet, when towns seek to take action to discipline police officers that have committed misconduct, they often cannot penalize officers. This is because it has been commonplace for towns to have charges of police misconduct heard by outside hearing officers. Those hearing officers then made binding decisions concerning police officer discipline, whether the town agreed with them or not.
The result of the Court of Appeals ruling is that all disciplinary provisions in existing town collective bargaining agreements statewide, including those that allow outside parties to make binding disciplinary determinations, are rendered void. Now, town boards, not third party hearing officers, are authorized to hear disciplinary charges and to make final decisions concerning when and how to discipline its police officers.
Going forward, all towns and villages must adopt local legislation or policies to regulate the charging, hearing and determination of police misconduct cases.
This case has far-reaching implications. The New York State Village Law contains the same statutory language as the Town Law, which authorizes villages to charge, hear and determine police misconduct cases. The Wallkill decision clearly applies not only to all towns, but to all villages throughout New York State.
This is a significant victory for the Town of Wallkill and all town and village boards throughout the state. Now the boards, not an outside third party, decides when an officer is guilty of misconduct and what the appropriate penalty should be.