California became the first state to enact legislation specifically protecting the rights of sworn peace officers. The legislation is called the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (POBR, often pronounced “po-bar”). It was enacted in 1977 as Assembly Bill 301, and codified in the California Government Code at sections 3300-3313.
The POBR is the rulebook by which administrative investigations of peace officers must be conducted in California. It is an ever-changing document that governs the administrative rights of a special class of public employees. POBR applies to permanent and limited “at-will” employees. Some agencies will extend POBR rights under the applicable Memorandum of Understanding. POBR rights are implicated when you are under investigation, subject to questioning, and that questioning could lead to “punitive action” against you. “Punitive action” is any action that may lead to termination, demotion, suspension, salary reduction, written reprimand, or if you are transferred out of an assignment or position for the “purposes of punishment.” Another definition of “punitive action” is any action likely to adversely affect the employee’s opportunities for advancement. The POBR does not apply to routine or unplanned contact with a supervisor, informal counseling, verbal admonishments, routine transfers not involving the loss of pay, adverse employment evaluations, probationary officers, or non-sworn employees.
If you believe an interrogation or discussion with a supervisor could lead to discipline, the POBR is triggered and you have a right to representation for that interrogation/discussion. If you are not sure whether a discussion with a supervisor could lead to discipline, ask “do I need a rep?” or “could this result in discipline?” If your supervisor says yes, tell him or her that you would like to have a representative present for the discussion. If your supervisor does not think the discussion could lead to discipline but you believe your responses to questions might subject you to administrative discipline or criminal charges, you should assert your right to a representative.
Generally, if you are being questioned as a witness to conduct or actions committed by a colleague, you are not entitled to representation unless the conduct you observed was so gross that you were derelict in your failure to report it.