The Arlington Municipal Patrolman’s Association, one of two main city police unions, is suing the city over what it considers an “overly broad” policy that restricts how new officers are recruited to unions.
The AMPA argues that the policy, which was issued in May and prohibits off-duty recruitment of officers outside allotted times, is unconstitutional, according to a lawsuit filed in Tarrant County civil court last week.
The policy allows each union an hour-long presentation to recruits at the police academy and the opportunity to schedule two off-duty dinners with recruits. It also says academy instructors “hold a higher responsibility to ensure a neutral learning environment and are expected to preserve that neutrality.”
The city and the Arlington Police Association, the union designated to bargain on behalf of officers, agreed on the policy.
J.P. Mason, president of the APA, said the policy was “written with the recruit in mind” to lighten pressure on them as they worked through the police academy.
The AMPA, which represents about 350 of the city’s 600 sworn officers, did not agree to the new policy, said attorney Randy Moore, who is representing the association in the lawsuit.
“We think the policy infringes on the rights of freedom of assembly and speech,” Moore said. “When the officer is on duty, they can regulate [the officer’s] activity. When they’re off duty and on their own time, they should be able to do what they want.”
The disagreement over the policy turned to controversy in July, when AMPA officials invited its members —including police academy staff — to an off-duty dinner with police recruits, according to the lawsuit.
Two days later, the lawsuit says, Deputy Chief Os Flores emailed academy staff and said they could be in violation of the new policy if they attended the dinner.
The instructors and training officers didn’t attend the dinner and then stopped participating in off-duty recruitment activities “due to threat of adverse employment action,” according to the lawsuit.
After AMPA lawyers requested clarification on the policy, the Arlington city attorney’s office responded that the policy “is not intended to prohibit off duty activities except for those that are prearranged during the academy presentation.”
The AMPA attorneys felt like the city’s response was vague and requested further clarification, asking the city attorney’s office if a training instructor would violate city policy by attending an off-duty recruitment activity.
The city declined to clarify, according to the lawsuit, and said the decision would be up to the police department.
In the lawsuit, AMPA says “Deputy Chief Flores’ interpretation of the policy stands as the City’s interpretation of its policy.”
The city attorney’s office was still reviewing the lawsuit this week and declined to comment.
Mason said the policy was not intended to overreach into officers’ personal lives.
“This applies only to recruiting academy recruits. Period,” Mason said. “It’s not a slippery slope. I do understand the argument that the police department can’t tell people what to do off duty; however, for the benefit of the recruit, I agree with the policy.”
In the lawsuit, the AMPA is seeking a permanent injunction.
“We’d like to see the policy declared unconstitutional,” Moore said.