March 1, 2006

SPRINGFIELD (March 1)—A UTU-backed measure to improve the professional standards and accountability of railroad police personnel passed the Illinois Senate today by a unanimous vote.

Senate Bill 2243, sponsored by Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and backed by the UTU, would require all railroads in the state to train and manage their private police officers to the same standards as public-sector police personnel employed by cities, counties and the Illinois State Police. It would also require rail carriers to adopt, and file with the state, a formal policy that protect employees and the public from potential police abuse.

“Because of their unique position under the law, privately owned railroads historically have been able to deploy police forces with the same powers of arrest and interrogation exercised by police forces established by government,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

“However, these private police forces have never been subjected to the same oversight as public police agencies,” Szabo said. “Sen. Cullerton’s bill will bring the railroad police under the same oversight umbrella that holds other police departments and personnel accountable.”

Szabo said S.B. 2243, which amends the Railroad Police Act, contains specific mechanisms to bring railroad police departments up to the same professional standard as public-sector police:

“For the first time, the qualifications of railroad police officers must now be certified by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board—the same panel that certifies public-sector police personnel,” Szabo said.

“Railroad special agents will have to graduate from a recognized police training institution and take courses in such subjects as use of weapons, interrogation and the rights of suspects. They will have to pass the same background checks as candidates for public-sector police positions, and the Law Enforcement Training Board would be able to remove a police officer from duty for any violation of its list of infractions.”

Another innovation: Any railroad deploying its own police force will have to establish an internal-affairs policy to ensure objective oversight for any claims of abuse of power or other misdeeds brought by employees or the public.

Most important to railroad employees, Szabo said if the Railroad Police Bill becomes law, special agents would be limited to investigate an employee only if one or more of four conditions are met:

1. The railroad believes the employee committed a crime.

2. The railroad is responding to an employee accident.

3. There is an imminent threat of violence in the workplace.

4. There is a legitimate concern about the safety one or more employees.

The bill also requires that an employee under investigation for any non-criminal matter be permitted to have a union representative present when interviewed by an officer.

A copy of the carriers internal affairs policy and employee interview policy will be required to be filed with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards Board.

Szabo said Sen. Cullerton’s bill came partly in response to a recent U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General’s report commissioned at the request of UTU regarding concerns with railroad police powers.

“All we did in Illinois was to codify the I.G.’s recommendations into law,” he said.

Szabo also noted that, in Illinois, the railroads’ unique privilege of maintaining a private police department with government’s powers contains some dangerous loopholes.

“A few years back a guy in the south suburbs [of Chicago] filed papers incorporating a railroad company, and even though it was a ‘sham’ railroad he had the legal right to establish a police department,” Szabo said. “This guy then hired friends with ‘less than honorable reputations’ and gave them badges and uniforms that enabled them to detain and shake down innocent people.

“The Railroad Police Bill would close that loophole and put characters like him out of business,” Szabo said. “But it would also bring legitimate railroad police under a higher standard of performance—and that’s just as important. Everyone will benefit, employees, the public, and the industry itself.”

Rep. Jay Hoffman (D- Collinsville) will sponsor the measure in the House.