A revised University provision requiring Yale Police Department officers to undergo annual firearm qualification threatens officers’ job security, members of the Yale Police Benevolent Association say.
The firearm guideline, called the Firearms Qualification General Order 302C, was enacted on June 30 and outlines specific instances in which YPD officers can have their employment suspended because of lack of gun proficiency. As currently stated in the provision, YPD members must go through annual firearm qualification as a prerequisite for regular patrol duty. If officers fail to qualify on the first two appointments, they enter a 30-day remedial firearms training period, during which they must surrender their department-issued firearms and conduct light duty possession-restricted assignments inside the YPD building.
If officers do not reach the designated level of gun proficiency within 30 days after remedial training , they are subjected to disciplinary action that can be as severe as employment termination. But the YPBA, a union that represents 65 patrols and six non-supervising detectives employed by the YPD, claims that the policy change will expose its members to unfair disciplinary practices.
The previous 2009 General Order did not include any disciplinary action in the event of failure to qualify at the end of the remedial period.
According to Mike Hall, the YPBA spokesman and a YPD patrolman, making continued employment contingent on firearms qualifications within a 30-day window is a significant alteration in working conditions that came without due cause.
“The union believes that the revised General Order represents a grave threat to the careers of our members,” Hall said. “The General Order is draconian and unnecessarily fast-tracks our members toward termination.”
Currently, no officer is facing the possibility of termination due to failure to qualify for firearm though several have started their fall season qualifications process, Hall said.
After receiving notification of this new General Order in April, the YPBA presented the University with a counteroffer, which would extend the 30-day remedial training period to 90 days. But according to Hall, a University representative “refused to even look at the union’s proposal,” and YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins said to the YPBA that he was “not interested” in the union’s position.
Higgins, whose signature is borne on both General Orders, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In response to Yale’s actions, the YPBA filed an unfair labor practice grievance with the National Labor Relations Board in the summer, claiming the University failed to bargain in good faith.
According to YPD officer John Grottole, who has been serving in Yale’s police force since 1989, the NLRB found merit in YPBA’s grievance and deferred the case to arbitration. Grottole said YPBA’s attorney has been working in conjunction with the University to choose a third-party impartial arbiter who will decide whether General Order 302C is in compliance with federal labor laws.
And a recent flier intended to be read by all YPBA members and posted at the YPD building announces that YPBA will be picketing in front of the YPD headquarters on Nov. 2 to “protest Chief Higgins’ unfair, unjust and unreasonable Firearms General Order which fires you if you can’t qualify in 30 days.”
According to the flier, 16 YPBA members “barely qualified” in 2015, a statistic used to call YPBA members to action. It adds that the YPBA will be contacting each union member in the near future to coordinate the picketing effort.
“No real police department in the State of Connecticut has such a ridiculous rule,” the flier reads. “Just imagine if you are the victim of this absurd police: goodbye house, health insurance, car and dog.”
The YPBA claims that the new General Order is also “troublesome” because of the lack of shooting range opportunities that YPD officers face. When the current YPD building on Ashmun Street was under construction in 2004, the YPBA formally asked the then-Chief James Perroti to furnish a shooting range within the building, a request that was later rejected. Hall said as a result, YPD officers have to solicit the help from other police departments in nearby towns such as Milford and West Haven if they wish to practice and qualify for firearms.
“You would be able to practice with the instructor when the range is available. We don’t know how many times it would be available,” Hall said. “There is a possibility with such a limited [availability], the range might be only available one day throughout that 30-day window. So technically, in that 30 days, you have one chance.”
Grottole added that the timing of the University and YPBA’s dispute coincided with the union’s contract renewal, a process that began in May. However, he pointed out that the firearms qualification issue is distinct from the union’s contract and thus will not impact the progress of contract negotiations.
Given the ground rules previously agreed to by both Yale and the YPBA, both parties are currently restricted from commenting on the specific terms of the contract negotiations.
According to Grottole, this is the union’s sixth contractual renewal with the University, a process that usually lasts for months. Since the previous contract first signed in 2010 came to its end on June 30, Yale and the YPBA have been signing extension agreements on a monthly basis to ensure day-to-day operations during negotiations.
When asked about the ongoing arbitration effort, Conroy did not address either the University’s position or the motivation behind tightening the firearms qualifications guidelines. University Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor did not comment to the News and referred to Conroy’s statement.
“The University recognizes the extraordinary work done every day by our University police and is committed to reaching a peaceful and fair new contract settlement with their union,” University spokesman Tom Conroy wrote in an email to the News. “The University and the YPBA are working collaboratively to negotiate a fair successor collective bargaining agreement as well as to resolve issues related to new and revised policies.”
A YPD officer must score a minimum of 240 points out of 300 to qualify for carrying department-issued firearms on duty.