At least 24 states have laws commonly referred to as a “Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights” (LEOBOR). Nearly all states have some statutes that address how law enforcement officers may be investigated, disciplined, or otherwise treated by the government agencies that employ them. The term LEOBOR is descriptive of how these rights are enumerated similar to state bills of rights or the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, but it is not indicative of the rights contained in each state’s unique law.
The two most common areas of rights given to police officers cover both the investigative and disciplinary processes. Nearly all LEOBORs guarantee the right of an officer to be notified when they are under investigation and who will be questioning them. Other rights in these areas include:
- Preventing officer personal information being released to the press.
- Protection from reassignment.
- Rights to legal representation through the officer’s own means or union.
- Requirements that investigations be conducted by other law enforcement officers.
- Limitations on which governmental entity may discipline them.
Statutory language often explicitly defines both the timeline of an investigation and how records generated by it must be kept. At least 15 states limit how far back misconduct may have occurred for a complaint to be investigable, how long investigations may take, and who may access records during and after the investigation. Officers must then typically sign an acknowledgement before adverse documents are placed in their file. If they do not, the documents may be placed in their file anyway alongside a note that the officer refused to sign the acknowledgement.
Some states specify that the rights granted in a LEOBOR are supplementary to rights granted by collective bargaining agreements. In states without these provisions, the LEOBOR serves as the minimum standard for rights granted to officers, but unions can bargain for additional rights and procedural protections for officers.
Generally, LEOBORs define law enforcement officers to distinguish the scope of who qualifies for the enumerated rights and procedural protections. Other miscellaneous rights established for law enforcement officers include protection from disclosing personal financial disclosures, rights to political activity while off duty, and access to all other remedies available through the state’s courts.