“One town’s police contract guaranteed a retiring lieutenant $121,000 for unused sick time. Another’s promises officers six months pay with no work required as a parting retirement benefit. In another contract, cops get paid $109 an hour for side gigs like monitoring traffic at construction sites.
Despite attempts to rein in police union contracts in New Jersey, costly provisions remain common, an unprecedented analysis by the Asbury Park Press and ProPublica found. The news outlets identified contract clauses throughout the state that protect officer payouts that cost the public hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“California is one of only five states that does not have a formal process for decertifying bad cops to keep them from finding patrol work. And it looks like it’s going to stay that way.
In the middle of a massive push for policing reforms in America, law enforcement unions have defeated S.B. 731, a California bill that would have created a commission to hear cases of cops who have engaged in misconduct and determine whether they’d be stripped of their certifications.”
“Several law enforcement unions in the state say they want a process in place to decertify bad cops. They even made a web page to insist that they support things like a database of officers who have been fired for misconduct, and “a fair, reasonable and workable decertification process.” But they object to Bradford’s commission because only three of the nine members would be police officers. Four of the other members would be members of nonprofit or academic institutions and community-based organizations that have experience on “issues related to police misconduct.” One member would be a citizen who has been a survivor of police misconduct (or a relative of somebody who did not survive misconduct). And one would be an attorney with “experience involving oversight of police officers.” Police unions determined that this newly created board would be, in the Associated Press’s words, “inherently biased against officers.””
“The cops and the unions want too much control over what is and is not considered “misconduct.” Time and again, Americans have seen these organizations use their power to defend and make excuses for terrible police behavior. Their ideal form of “due process” for police officers facing misconduct allegations is an ostensibly civilian commission that police control.”
“Police unions in general have become the most vocal interest group opposing criminal justice reforms and especially reforms to police discipline and use of force. Historically, they have, unlike most unions, been profoundly conservative institutions that uphold a particular white ethnic, “law and order”-focused variant of right-wing politics. They have been among Donald Trump’s most fervent allies; Kroll spoke at a Trump rally in 2018, and the International Union of Police Associations has already endorsed Trump for reelection.
The foregrounding of police unions’ role in the warping of American law enforcement has also prompted some difficult conversations on the left. The presence of a segment of a union movement that’s unapologetically right-wing and hostile to Black communities has tested the limits of solidarity from more left-wing unionists.
As long as police forces exist, police unions will exist in some form as well, even if just as political pressure groups. It is therefore natural to think that reforming police unions in some way must be part of the broader agenda of changing policing in America. They are among the biggest stakeholders in the way the system works now; without addressing their power, other reforms may never get off the ground.”
“Most police union experts I spoke with, though, fell in the middle: They believe that police unions can be usefully reformed without being abolished.
There are a number of possible models for this kind of reform. The organization Campaign Zero, co-founded by activists DeRay Mckesson and Samuel Sinyangwe, has been a leader in pushing for police union contract transparency; much of the research above relies on contracts they’ve surfaced publicly.
They recommend a bevy of contract changes, most of which involve removing provisions included in many union contracts or state laws known as Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights (LEOBRs), which provide similar protections to police officers as contracts do but are implemented as state legislation instead. Problematic provisions in contracts and LEOBRs include mandates that delay interrogations of officers (as Rushin highlighted), the ability to appeal to an arbitrator partially chosen by the police union, and bans on investigating misconduct that happened more than 100 days in the past.
Rushin has proposed allowing the public to observe collective bargaining between the police and state governments. That way, the public can exert pressure on city leaders not to yield to police union demands about discipline. A 2017 Reuters investigation found that in a number of cities, such as San Antonio, city leaders have given police unions concessions as an explicit trade-off for not offering high pay or limiting pay cuts. “If that trade-off is publicly visible, that our failure to compensate is causing cities to give significant concessions on discipline,” Rushin notes, then public pressure might force the city to increase police salaries rather than reducing accountability.”
“Suppose that a FedEx deliveryperson pushed you onto the sidewalk, causing a head injury when you fell. The deliveryperson would be liable in a civil suit, and so would FedEx. But it’s different with government. Qualified immunity generally protects police officers and other public employees from lawsuits; meanwhile, a principle called “vicarious liability” protects police departments and city governments from such lawsuits. Fisk argues that Congress should reverse Monell and allow governments to be held liable for police officers’ misconduct.
The most dramatic reform, short of outright abolishing collective bargaining rights for police unions, is one that Harvard’s Sachs suggested sympathy toward and the Boston Globe has editorialized in favor of: limiting police unions to simply bargaining on wages and hours, not on discipline. This change is already the law in Massachusetts. (Fisk argues this would go too far. “There’s two sides to the contract; why are we focused only on what unions are asking for rather than focusing on what cities are asking for?” she says.)
Reforming police unions is hardly the only important task in efforts to reform the police generally. But there is an emerging consensus that something significant has to change in these organizations. If not, they will remain unaccountable lobbies that frustrate even mild efforts to reform police departments and save the lives of unarmed civilians.”
“In 2018, as a gunman murdered 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Sgt. Brian Miller, a sheriff’s deputy with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, hid behind his police cruiser, waiting 10 minutes to radio for help. For his failure to act, Miller was fired. The official cause was “neglect of duty.”
Last month, however, Miller was not only reinstated but given full back pay. His 2017 salary was more than $138,000. Miller had challenged his firing, and, as The Miami Herald reports, he had done so with the full backing of his union.”
“This is what police unions do: defend the narrow interests of police at the expense of public safety. They exist to demand that taxpayers pay for dangerous, and even deadly, negligence. And although they are not the only pathology that affects American policing, they are a key internal influence on police culture, a locus of resistance to improvements designed to reduce police violence. To stop bad cops and police abuse, we must tackle police unions.
In case after case, police unions have defended deadly misdeeds committed by law enforcement. In 2014, for example, New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo put Eric Garner in a chokehold for selling loose cigarettes. As a result of Pantaleo’s chokehold, Garner died. Garner’s last words were, “I can’t breathe.”
The incident, caught on video, helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement. A grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo, but five years after Garner’s death, he was fired from the force following a police administrative judge’s ruling that the chokehold was, indeed, a violation of department policy.
Pantaleo had violated his police department’s policy in a way that resulted in the death of a man who was committing the most minor of offenses. Yet when he was finally fired, Patrick Lynch, the president of the Police Benevolent Association, Pantaleo’s union, criticized the city for giving in to “anti-police extremists” and warned that such decisions threatened the ability of city police to do their jobs. “We are urging all New York City police officers to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job,” Lynch said.”
“Forthcoming research out of the University of Victoria’s economics department finds that the introduction of collective bargaining produces somewhat higher compensation for police officers. It does not correlate with a reduction in total crime—but it does eventually correlate with higher numbers of killings by police, especially of minorities.
In other words, the research finds about what you’d expect given a public sector workforce with unions set up to protect police officer compensation while limiting discipline and oversight. Police get paid more, yet the public is no safer—and it’s even at greater risk of violence by police.”
“consider the case of Camden, New Jersey. For decades, the city was among the most violent in the country, plagued by one of America’s highest murder rates and commensurate levels of property crime. In 2012, with the murder rate approaching record highs, The New York Times reported, police acknowledged “that they have all but ceded these streets to crime.” City officials said the police union was to blame. Union contracts made hiring officers prohibitively expensive. The cops on the payroll were being paid too much and they weren’t getting the job done.
So the city made a novel decision: Fire the police. All of them.
That year, Camden began the process of terminating hundreds of officers and hiring a new force initially made up of less expensive, non-union labor, controlled by the county.
It was a decision meant to address both budget and crime problems. Naturally, the police union opposed the plan, saying it was “definitely a form of union-busting.” City officials, the union said, were relying on a reform that was “unproven and untested,” putting faith in an agency that did not yet exist.
By many measures, however, the unproven and untested new police force worked. After disbanding the city police and reorganizing under the county with lower pay, plus adding focus on rebuilding trust with the community (which is among the nation’s poorest), murders declined. The city is still dangerous compared to some others, but there’s been clear progress in terms of reducing crime and improving community relations. Over the weekend, as residents took to the streets to protest disparate and abusive treatment in black communities, Camden police officers marched with the protesters.”
“Unions aren’t the only problem plaguing American police forces; there are plenty of other reforms worth pursuing, from demilitarization to ending qualified immunity. But they have consistently proven to be a force of organized resistance to calmer, safer, less aggressive policing”
“Police are public servants granted enormous power over the citizenry. They are tasked with protecting the public and serving their interests. Police unions, in contrast, are tasked with protecting police and serving their interests—even in direct contravention of serving the public. That distinction makes them a barrier to reforms aimed at improving public safety and increasing oversight of how law enforcement behaves. If union-busting is what it takes to reduce the pernicious influence of today’s police unions on policing, then it’s time to bust some police unions.”
“Matthew Luckhurst of the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) tried to feed a homeless man a sandwich made of dog feces. While Luckhurst was initially fired for such crappy behavior, Reason reported in March 2019 that his employment was fully restored.
Luckhurst was able to rejoin the force following an arbitration hearing required by the collective bargaining agreement the San Antonio Police Officers Association has with the city. Since the department could not prove the exact date of the crap sandwich incident, the department had no choice but to accept that it missed the 180-day window in which it could discipline Luckhurst, and the arbitration panel ruled in Luckhurst’s favor.
The San Antonio Current reported this week that Luckhurst’s story is not an exception to the rule. Twenty-seven of the 40 SAPD police officers fired between 2010 and 2019 have managed to get their jobs back through arbitration. Only 13 firings were upheld in that entire time.”