Forgive and Forget

Internal records of disciplinary actions against Metro-Dade cops get wiped clean after two years

The department itself is worried about the legalities of purging files. Last year Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth issued an opinion stating that "a municipality, which maintains employee personnel files that include notices of proposed and actual disciplinary action, may not remove and destroy disciplinary notices, with or without the employee's consent, during the course of resolving collective bargaining grievances, except in accordance with the retention schedule adopted by the municipality and the consent of the Division of Library and Information Services of the Department of State."

Prompted by that opinion, Metro-Dade re-examined its record-keeping policies. A modification of the policy was announced early this year in a memo signed by Richard Freund, the county's director of personnel services. No longer would records of minor discipline be removed from county personnel files. Instead they would be stamped "No longer in effect." The police department also resolved to stop sanitizing its personnel files.

The PBA objected, pointing out that the change violated a standard operating procedure that already had been accepted as part of the collective bargaining process. The union's protest prompted Assistant County Attorney Lee Kraftchick to re-evaluate the implications of the attorney general's opinion. By April Kraftchick had come up with a compromise: Personnel files kept by the police department should be considered "working papers," and as such could be subject to change. Documents could be inserted and documents could be removed. Personnel files maintained by the county would be defined as the "official" files and would conform to the county's record-keeping policy.

The merits of Kraftchik's argument are unclear. According to the state's records-retention schedule, a notice of final disciplinary action must be maintained for at least 50 years. (Internal affairs investigations that result in suspension or other formal discipline may be destroyed after five years, as long as the record of final action is safeguarded.) Other police departments, such as Coral Gables, which is not represented by the PBA, routinely purge investigations according to the state schedule. A record of any investigation and its outcome remain in an officer's personnel file for 50 years, however, says Maj. Robert Murrhee.

Nevertheless, Michael Braverman, general counsel for the PBA, argues that the Metro-Dade Police Department's records-cleansing procedures fall within the scope of that state law. "The reality of the fact is that there is a much higher standard for law enforcement [than for the general public] because there are multiple files kept on an officer, and the official file is never purged," Braverman says. "Ninety percent of the public doesn't even deal with the public records law.

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