Police Union Intimidates California City Council

The latest shameless tactics from California's notorious law enforcement unions.


Many people were outraged this summer after a private investigator, with ties to a law firm that represents 120 police unions in California, made an apparently false report to the cops claiming that a councilman in the Orange County, California, city of Costa Mesa stumbled out of a bar drunk and was weaving all over the road as he drove home.

The clear goal was to embarrass a councilman who had been leading the charge in his city for pension reform, outsourcing, and other reforms. Evidence showed that the councilman, Jim Righeimer, had nothing to drink and did not stumble. Subsequently, other officials revealed similarly disturbing tactics from police in their cities.

Despite the revelations, police unions continue to behave as if nothing has changed, as they intimidate council members who refuse to go along with their demands for ever-higher pay and benefits, and protections from oversight and accountability.

Two councilmen in Fullerton, Bruce Whitaker and Travis Kiger, are experiencing disturbing attacks similar to the ones that Righeimer experienced. The Fullerton police union is angry at the role those men played in demanding reform in the wake of the horrific 2011 beating death by officers of a homeless man named Kelly Thomas.

The unions also dislike Whitaker's and Kiger's call for pension reform, their consideration of a plan—common in Orange County and elsewhere—to shift police services to the more cost-efficient and professional sheriff's department.

The private eye mentioned above had ties to the Upland law firm of Lackie, Dammeier & McGill. The Orange County Register had reported on the political "playbook" which the lawyers had published on their web site until the ensuing bad publicity. The playbook detailed how police unions should bully elected officials into giving in to their demands. Although the Fullerton union uses a different firm, it is following a similar blueprint.

As the firm explained, the union "should be like a quiet giant in the position of, 'do as I ask and don't piss me off.'" It detailed the "various tools available to an association to put political pressure on the decision makers." The firm advises police to "storm city council" and have union members and supporters chastise targeted council members "for their lack of concern for public safety," even though the issue is about pay rather than safety.

The playbook even calls for the police to engage in dubious behavior—calling in sick (Blue Flu) even if officers are not sick and using the color of authority to scare residents (i.e., calling for unnecessary back-up units) into thinking there is a crime problem in their neighborhood. The scared residents will then, presumably, give the police more money.

In Fullerton, union members have repeatedly stormed the city council. The union has handed out free T-shirts and free hamburgers for those residents who went into the council chambers to support them.

Supporters have yelled at council members and leveled unsubstantiated charges designed to scare Fullerton residents into electing pro-union wastrels.

They have sent out one hit mailer after another. For instance, the union claims that the council's failed vote to get a bid from the Orange County Sheriff's Department for the provision of police services amounts to "putting our families at risk," something that would be news to the sheriff and her deputies.

Reminiscent of those "reefer madness" efforts from the 1950s, the union has transformed the council members' irrelevant support for a statewide marijuana initiative into something ominously portrayed in mailers that proclaim, "Our neighborhoods could be full of marijuana dispensaries." Even if the initiative passes, Fullerton's law bans such dispensaries. And there is no evidence dispensaries "jeopardize our families' safety," although I understand why police are addicted to the federal cash that funds the drug war.

Kiger and Whitaker are freedom-oriented conservatives who oppose Fullerton's DUI checkpoints on constitutional grounds, which has led the union to claim yet another assault of Fullerton's tranquility. I've been driving through Fullerton during those infuriating checkpoints, forced to wait in lines on public streets as cops randomly poke around everyone's cars, so I am glad some council members question this intrusion.

These are standard campaign efforts, perhaps, but these tactics don't stop there. Kiger talks about a police officer who makes a "repeated false assertion to the public that I smoke marijuana." Kiger also relayed an incident in which an officer followed him in a patrol car around town in what he viewed as a clear act of intimidation.

The officers claim the council race is all about "public safety," but the union is backing a liberal candidate with no obvious commitment to actual safety issues, but who seems willing to support the pay and pension packages the union demands, and who was mostly silent during the Thomas incident.

"If I wasn't able to contribute money, these councilmen wouldn't be able to defend themselves against these union attacks," said Tony Bushala, a local businessman and blogger who was the main supporter for a recall effort over the summer against three union-allied council members. "The unions put out a hit mailer every day, which explains the importance of Proposition 32." That is the statewide paycheck-protection initiative that would stop unions from using automatic payroll deductions to fund political campaigns.

Last week, I wrote about a new study revealing that between 2005-2010 pension costs to the state government have soared by 94 percent for "public safety" officials. People often ask me why the state is in such a fiscal mess, why council members don't implement reasonable reforms, and why so many localities are considering bankruptcy.

The answer can be found in Costa Mesa, Fullerton, and elsewhere. Most council members don't have the courage or resources to stand up to the union fusillade. Until the public rejects these despicable union efforts, neither public services nor public finances will improve.