Officer Suspensions, Removals Take Time and Progressive Discipline

Few know it to be fact, but it is not the chief of police in many communities – including Everett – that would be able to fire a police officer for misconduct.

In fact, Chief Steven Mazzie – and many other chiefs in the area – can only suspend the officer for five days and then forward the matter to a hearing before Mayor Carlo DeMaria. Known as Chapter 31 and 41 hearings, even the results of those hearings can be appealed to an arbitrator or a Civil Service hearing at the state level.

“There is a process,” said the chief. “You can’t just fire a police officer before going through that process. There is a process that has to be followed.”

That process involves the Police Department, the Mayor, and a state Civil Service appeal as well – not to mention progressive discipline that would need to happen leading up to any type of hearing.

“There is a strong chief statute and a weak chief statute and we have the weak chief statute in Everett,” said Mazzie. “I can discipline for up to five days and then a letter has to go to the mayor, who is in charge of hiring and firing and promotions. If a mayoral local hearing takes place, the mayor can take action up to termination of the officer. The officer can appeal the decision to the state Civil Service Board or to an arbitrator from the state.”

The entire process involves a police union representative and usually an attorney from the New England Police Benevolent Association. However, sometimes in very serious misconduct cases, the Association often decides not to represent the officer, Mazzie said.

“It is a long process, but it can get done,” he said. “It might take some time though.”

In Everett, over the last 10 years, there have been five Chapter 31 or 41 hearings for Everett Police officers, according to information provided to the Independent by the City and the EPD. The names of the officers and specific details are not public information, as they are protected under personnel privacy statues, but all five either resigned or were fired.

The five hearings include the following: 

•Officer #1 – Rules & Regulations Violations – Conduct. Resigned at hearing. 

•Officer #2 – Rules & Regulations Violations – Conduct. Fired. Upheld after appeal.

•Officer #3. Rules & Regulations Violations – Conduct/Sexual Harassment Policy Violations. Fired. Upheld on appeal.

•Officer #4 -Rules & Regulations Violations- Conduct/ Alcohol & Substance Abuse Policy Violations. Fired. No appeal.

•Officer #5  – Rules & Regulations Violations- Conduct. Fired. Pending Civil Service Hearing.  

The point of the matter is firing a police officer who breaks the rules or policies can be long and exhausting, and may be overturned by someone at the state level outside the city. Beyond that, Mazzie said he can address concerns he may have with officers upon observation of how they perform their jobs, and he can also enact discipline from one to five days suspension. That, he said, often gets the message across.

“If I have concerns about someone, I’m going to address the concern,” he said. “If we see someone not complying with a policy, it’s a matter of making sure they correctly understand the policy. If it’s of a serious nature, I take disciplinary action.”

Mazzie said he does practice progressive discipline in all but the most serious cases before they land on the mayor’s desk. If it is a low-level violation or a first violation, he said he often suspends officers one or two days. On a second occurrence or a more serious matter, it could be four or five days depending on the situation. Beyond that, he would send a letter to the mayor for a hearing.

However, he said discipline on the EPD isn’t an everyday occurrence either. Most important is understanding what has happened and what is fair.

“You have to take all the facts and circumstances of these cases into account,” he said.

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