Batista introduces legislation to reform
Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights
STATE HOUSE – Rep. José F. Batista today introduced legislation to reform the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) to empower police chiefs to enforce discipline for misconduct within their departments in a timely manner.
Representative Batista’s bill would convert the LEOBOR hearing panel into an appeals panel by allowing chiefs to implement discipline immediately, as opposed to waiting months or years for a LEOBOR hearing to conclude.
“The current LEOBOR statute in Rhode Island provides police officers accused of misconduct with ‘supersized’ due process rights. Indeed, only seven states in the nation offer police officers a hearing prior to issuing discipline; only four states compose a hearing board made up entirely of police officers. Only two states allow the accused officer to actually pick one of the officers on the panel as well. The current Rhode Island LEOBOR statute provides all of the above and more. Therefore, this bill maintains all due process owed to police officers by labor law while also repealing those provisions of LEOBOR that go above and beyond what is required by law such that they serve as obstacles to accountability,” said Representative Batista (D-Dist. 12, Providence).
Adopted in Rhode Island in 1976, the LEOBOR establishes a process and set of rights for officers accused of wrongdoing on the job, preventing them from being immediately fired or put on leave without pay, and allowing their continued employment to be decided by a panel of other police officers. The law has been widely criticized by many who believe it prevents justice from being served when officers are abusive.
Representative Batista’s bill does not repeal LEOBOR, and it adheres to requirements of existing labor laws. It maintains provisions that allow accused officers to have what is called a “Loudermill” hearing, where they are presented with accusations against them and have the opportunity to retain an attorney and respond to the allegations if they choose.
Under the bill, a police chief would be able to implement discipline immediately after the Loudermill hearing. Currently, discipline doesn't go into effect until after the LEOBOR panel holds its hearing and issues a decision — which can take months or even years.
Instead, matters would go to a LEOBOR panel only if the officer disagrees with the discipline and files an appeal. The panel would then handle that appeal.
The bill also closes a loophole that was recently on display in Rhode Island due to the case of Daniel Dolan, the Pawtucket Police officer involved in an off-duty shooting of a teen driver. Under LEOBOR, Pawtucket was required to pay Dolan $123,934 in back pay because he was acquitted of criminal charges. Under the bill, an officer who is acquitted of a crime but ultimately terminated by the municipality would not be awarded back pay.
“Being acquitted of a crime does not mean you are automatically entitled to be back on the job. As we have seen in numerous recent cases in Rhode Island, officer conduct can be so egregious as to warrant termination even if the officer is acquitted of a crime. An officer in that scenario should not be rewarded with six figures in taxpayer dollars,” said Representative Batista.
“Ultimately, this bill is aimed at public safety and justice. Police departments should be better able to remove the bad actors from their ranks swiftly. Those officers are a threat to the public and harmful to their own department’s ability to serve,” said Representative Batista.
Representative Batista has been a strong voice for criminal justice reform. In 2021, he was the sponsor of successful legislation establishing a statewide body camera program for police. He has also sponsored bills to reform various components of our criminal justice system including bail, probation, policing and the decriminalization of drug addiction.