June 12, 2014

Lawsuit filed against city to get home addresses of Arlington police officers

The city says it is illegal to provide police officers’ home addresses to a third party.

A group seeking to represent Arlington police officers has filed a lawsuit to obtain officers’ home addresses for a mail-in election to decide which police association has the most support.

The Arlington Police Association currently represents police in negotiations with the city. The Arlington Municipal Patrolman’s Association wants the job.

The lawsuit, filed by the patrolman’s association in May, asks that a judge declare that the city broke the law when it refused to provide a list of Arlington police officers’ home addresses to a third party, the American Arbitration Association.

Each police group claims half the city’s sworn police personnel. According to city officials, some officers are members of more than one of several police associations that represent Arlington officers.

City attorneys argue in an answer filed Monday to the lawsuit that state law prohibits Arlington from turning over police officers’ personal information, such as mailing addresses, to the arbitration group.

But the patrolman’s association says the city is trying to scare officers by suggesting that the home addresses would be released.

“The city is refusing to allow AAA to run the election,” said Christopher Livingston, a lawyer for the patrolman’s association. “We know that AAA is not going to release that information. They are asking for the least amount of information that would allow them to verify an eligible voter.”

Melinda Barlow, Arlington city attorney, said the statutes that prohibit a city from sharing the addresses of its police officers have existed since 1979 because of safety issues.

“It’s a violation of law for us to provide the home addresses of police officers under any circumstance,” Barlow said. “This is typically something that the associations have been adamant about protecting.”

The potential for officers’ home addresses being made available to criminals they helped lock up is dangerous, says an email sent to the officers by Becki Brandenburg, president of the Arlington Police Association.

“APA believes it is extremely difficult to maintain the integrity of an election through the mail,” the email says.

Ken Egger, national vice president of elections for the arbitration group, said his organization has conducted more than 225 elections in the past year and does not remember ever having a security breach. A secret ballot would be mailed to the eligible Arlington officers and they would be instructed to return the ballots in a business reply envelope, Egger said.

No personal identifying information would be on the return envelope and election workers would not have access to the personal information of officers, Egger said.

“We can’t conduct an election without having the addresses of the eligible voters,” Egger said.

Chris Ceballos, an Arlington police officer and a member of the Arlington Municipal Patrolman’s Association board, said state law designates the arbitration association to run the election if there is no agreement between the two police associations on how it should be run. Initially, the parties discussed conducting an in-person election, but when those discussions broke down, the arbitration association was contacted, Ceballos said.

He said the city and APA are trying to stall the elections, adding that the associations need to discuss the low salaries of Arlington police officers and other issues with city officials.

“Most of our members want to see what we can do,” Ceballos said. “APA has had this since 2006 and they have yet to secure a written meet and confer agreement. They make us have the highest standards but they don’t want to pay us for meeting those standards.”

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