June 12, 2006

SPRINGFIELD (June12)—Gov. Blagojevich has signed S.B. 2243 into law, making it mandatory that private railroad police forces undergo the same training, certification, discipline and guidance that govern municipal, county and state police officers.

The railroad-police reform legislation passed the State Senate unanimously March 1 and passed the House unanimously March 16. The bill was supported by the UTU Illinois Legislative Board because of language inserted by UTU that raises the professional performance of railroad special agents and protects rail employees against railroad police abuse.

“The enactment of S.B. 2243 represents an important new level of protection for our members,” said Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “It greatly restricts the functions and interactions that railroad police may have with employees.”

Szabo said the four circumstances under which railroad police may interrogate employees are as follows:

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 of one or more employees.

“The bill also mandates that an employee under investigation for any non-criminal matter be permitted to have a union officer present while he or she is being interviewed by a police officer,” Szabo said.

Szabo said this last point is an important one as some carriers have been utilizing ‘Commissioned’ Claim Agents – a railroad claim agent who is also a commissioned railroad police officer – to conduct employee interviews after an accident or injury and refusing to allow a union representative to be present.

In addition to providing new protection for rail employees, the amendments signed by the governor will standardize and professionalize a set of private railroad police forces which historically have followed different policies in the way they train, manage and discipline their officers.

“Under S.B. 2243, all newly hired railroad police officers will have to be graduates of an accredited police training academy,” Szabo said. “That means they must take the same courses in weapons, interrogation procedures and rights of suspects that are studied by candidates for a local police department, a county sheriff’s department, or the Illinois State Police.

“Candidates for railroad police jobs also will have to pass the same background checks as other police cadets,” Szabo said, noting that the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Board would be able to remove a railroad police officer from duty for violating any of its listed infractions.

Railroad police departments also will have to establish an internal-affairs policy to ensure that objective oversight is carried out when claims of abuse are lodged against an officer. Such policies have become common in civil police departments over the last 30 years.

“In other words, railroad police are going to become more like civil police and less like private enforcers,” Szabo said. “They are going to become more accountable and responsible, and they are going to become accountable and responsible to the civil authorities and to state law rather than just to railroad management. Our members owe a debt of gratitude to Gov. Blagojevich and the General Assembly for their prompt and effective action.”