MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon Police Chief Roger Monroe wants to clean out the personnel files his office keeps on officers by eliminating “inactive” discipline. He changed the department’s records retention schedule to do so, but does that change create a contradiction within record keeping rules?
According to the current records retention schedule for the police department, signed by Monroe and Mayor Richard Mavis in late 2016, and state officials in early 2017, “Personnel Records” are deemed “permanent” while “Personnel Records – In-Active Discipline” are disposable five years after becoming inactive. While the city has no written definitions for active or inactive, the city’s contract with the Fraternal Order of Police explains that verbal and written reprimands are no longer effective (active) after 12 months of issue with no further disciplinary action. Additional discipline within that 12 month period would raise the stakes to another level, hence the progressive disciplinary process. Suspensions remain active for 18 months after issued, based on the 2015-17 union contract.
Since the News first questioned the addition of inactive personnel records to the records retention schedule in early February, Monroe said he was instructed by administration to not destroy any personnel records.
Monroe maintains that the safety-service director is the “main keeper” of personnel records for the city. Because of this, he believes he can legally thin out personnel files in his office for the sake of space.
“I’m cleaning up records in general,” Monroe told the News. “I’m getting old information out that we don’t need. … Records requests are the only thing that holds weight to it.”
Joel Daniels, safety-service director, said he understood both departments keep copies of disciplinary actions, but what must stay and what can go in the records Monroe maintains is a gray area.
“We need further elaboration on that,” Daniels admitted.
Monroe said that once discipline records maintain “inactive” status, the document is no longer meaningful.
“It has no value to me,” Monroe said. “Once it’s inactive it’s dead weight to me. … What if someone had discipline for something 10 years ago. If they have a similar offense, I can’t use that (in progressive discipline).”
Labor attorney Jonathon Downes, who often works with the city, disagrees with Monroe when it comes to the retention of inactive files.
“A record of discipline becomes ‘inactive’ when the discipline is no longer considered for future discipline. Nonetheless the record remains a public record,” Downes wrote to the News in an email.
Also in disagreement with Monroe is Daniels, who finds value in inactive discipline.
A personnel file should “tell the history of employment,” Daniels said.
In order to see the “complete picture,” the safety-service director has started to consolidate personnel files that were separated into active and inactive files by the previous safety-service director.
“I’ve recently started to put inactive files back into the file. I’m not comfortable with having documents in two locations. We need one package for each employee,” Daniels said.