Police Abuse

How Police Unions Contribute to the Police Violence Problem

As explained in a New York Times op-ed.


multiple sources/Reason

Saturday's New York Times op-ed page include a column by Jonathan Smith, who served as head of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division's special litigation team from 2010 until this year, when the DOJ investigated more than 20 police departments. Smith describes how police unions have contributed to the problem of police brutality and lack of accountability. He provides some historical context, explaining how police unions responded to Lyndon Johnson's 1967 Kerner Commission, which found many of the riots of the period were caused by broken police-community relations.

Via The New York Times:

Following the report, police conduct was challenged by civil rights litigation, and a movement for civilian oversight was born. A series of decisions from the Supreme Court defined the constitutional right of protection from excessive force for citizens arrested by police.

The Fraternal Order of Police and other rank-and-file police groups adopted a defensive strategy toward this pressure. They lobbied state legislatures to enact law enforcement "bills of rights" that placed strict limits on accountability.

In big cities, where police unions have political clout, rigid union contracts also restricted the ability of police chiefs and civilian oversight bodies to tackle misconduct. As a result, an officer involved in a shooting often cannot be interviewed at the scene; internal affairs investigators have to wait days to get a statement.

Smith also writes about how cops are allowed to review body cam footage to "get the story straight" and how union contracts limit the kind of accountability and oversight police departments and local governments can impose on police.

Sometimes, however, blaming union contracts can be an excuse for inaction, Smith argues:

Union-negotiated rules are only one barrier to change — and police chiefs sometimes cite union contracts unfairly, as an excuse for inaction. But state laws and collective bargaining agreements must be reformed. Disciplinary procedures should be less complex and rules that limit the effectiveness of civilian oversight must be eliminated. Transparency in police conduct must be the rule.

Reform is good for union members — in fact, the overreach of law enforcement bills of rights and some union contracts have harmed the very officers the contract rules are intended to protect. The obstacles to correcting police misconduct have not only undermined confidence in the police, especially among minorities, but have actually placed officers at greater risk by damaging relations between police departments and communities.

When convictions are a necessary prerequisite for substantive police discipline, such obstacles also put cops in danger by threatening their due process rights. That police unions produce rules that protect bad cops should not be a controversial point; the purpose of public unions is to create privileges of employment.

Read Smith's entire op-ed here.

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  1. Very well, then. End all public-sector unions. I mean, sure, they can associate with one another, but no government help. So sorry.

  2. So, Ima let you finish but first – XCOM 2 is announced! With Snakemen!

    ‘Cinematic’ trailer in link


    1. Read for one minute then got forwarded to a Witcher 3 post. Because gaming sites have not been giving W3 enough press. 😛

      1. Sorry about that – didn’t do it to me.

        But its not like that’s the only place with the announcement or the trailer.

  3. The job of restoring community trust in cities like Cleveland demands sustained effort both by political and police leaders and by regular police officers. The police unions must play their part.

    This is based on the assumption that police want to be trusted rather than feared. I believe that assumption to be false.

    1. Men shrink less from offending one who inspires love than one who inspires fear.

      1. True. But, what Machiavelli failed to note was the nature of that offense when it manifests. You might be less likely to offend someone you fear. But, when that willingness to offend finally comes into being, it’s not usually easily sated.

        1. Men ought either to be indulged or utterly destroyed, for if you merely offend them they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate, so that the injury done to a man ought to be such that vengeance cannot be feared.

          1. “Whoever appeals to the Law against his fellow man is either a fool or a coward. Whoever cannot take care of himself without that Law is both. For a wounded man shall say to his assailant, ‘If I live, I will kill you; if I die, you are forgiven.’ Such is the rule of Honor.”

        2. Machiavelli also pointed out “Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred.”


          “But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Besides, pretexts for taking away the property are never wanting; for he who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others;”

          Even on Machiavellian grounds, the police have screwed up the “better to be feared than loved” thing.

    2. *nods aggressively*

      1. *nods aggressively*


        Good shoot…

  4. Smith also writes about how cops are allowed to review body cam footage to “get the story straight”

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t see where this is necessarily a problem. The point of body cameras isn’t to play “gotcha” with either police or suspects. It’s to establish an unbiased record of what happened. If police want to try to be consistent with that, I think that’s a step in the right direction.

    1. They can, we can’t. Try playing poker that way, it’s just as fair.

      1. And the answer to that is simple – make footage available to the defense, as well.

        1. *That* would be more acceptable, but isn’t what you had proposed.

    2. I’d be fine with the footage being turned over to an independent body. The officer can submit his version of events, then he can see the body cam footage, and then the police report can be built from those accounts. He won’t necessarily get in trouble for a difference in his version, but a difference will inform us as to the amount of credibility we give his report.

      Again, it isn’t about blame so much as recognizing human infallibility and determining the credibility of accounts surrounding the event.

      1. Except that “independent body” usually means “a bunch of retired cops and their family members,” and nothing else happens.

        1. I really just mean some type of keep where the footage:

          1) Is kept from destruction; and
          2) Isn’t available to the police until after an officer statement.

          A bank could achieve those two aims.

      2. Make the footage available to the public, period.

        Why not?

        1. In public places, sure, automatically available. In private residences, I don’t know.

        2. Because people who are interested in justice are not interested in tainting juries.

  5. Here’s my half-thought-out proposal:

    Require police officers to furnish and pay for malpractice insurance. Instead of municipalities paying out misconduct claims, the insurance companies would pay and adjust their premiums accordingly. The officers would be required to pay their own insurance premiums, which would inevitably go up if they’re found to be camera shy, panty-bundled, or trigger happy. Perhaps they could receive a very modest stipend, based on the premiums of America’s most rights respecting departments. If an officer can’t obtain insurance, he can’t be hired. The insurance companies can do their own evaluations as to risk factors such as pedo-staches, BMI, and tendency for animal cruelty.

    The important thing is that the officer has to pay directly for it himself, and any insurance stipend has to be across the board and difficult to adjust.

    1. Just treat them like every other person. Get rid of imunity, qualified or otherwise. The best way to do that is get rid of government cops, make them all private cops, hired by people and business just as they hire janitors or FedEx.

      All it takes is accountability. Markets sort things out wondefully if given half a chance. Your proposals just add more regulation in a futile attempt to restore some sembalnce of market accountability without having an actual messy independent market. That never works, it only begs for more and mroe refinement.

      Get back to a regular market where cops are as accountable as ordinary people, which is what they really are.

      1. Regular people who are called to break up fights and subdue criminals. Regular people who are not supposed to avoid confrontation.

    2. And besides, your proposal hinges on cops being found accountable. They never are. Cities pay for city accountability, but polce unions will never allow that accountability to be assigned to individual cops. Your proposal will change nothing as long as cops are immune to accountablity.

      1. I guess it was a stupid proposal. Thanks.

        1. Every fully baked proposal was half-baked at one point.

          Carry on!

    3. If I chase that armed robbery suspect, I might have to shoot him. And Jesse and Al will come to town, and my insurance will go through the…. Uhm, where’d he go? Shucks, he got away.

  6. This is what unions are supposed to do. If you want to blame them for doing their job, fine. But ultimately, this is on the political process that weights special interests over general good.

  7. Unions are for losers.

    If you belong to a union, YOU are a loser.

    1. What’s coffee for?

      1. Closers.

        For you….steak knives!

  8. Sometimes, however, blaming union contracts can be an excuse for inaction, Smith argues:

    That was a bit of a strange passage. Based on the description, it seems that yes, yes in fact unions can be blamed for inaction.

    Eliminate the Union, start firing bad officers, routing bad management, create a culture of accountability by applying the law equally to law enforcement and the public. That’s in the first week of my mayorship.

    1. Evil: If I were creating the world I wouldn’t mess about with butterflies and daffodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o’clock, Day One!

  9. Just ending the War on Drugs would solve most of these problems. BTW when is Reason going to change over to Disqus so I can get notified when people reply to my posts?

    1. Another shill for Biggus Disqus.

    2. HyR crashes my browser enough as is.

  10. It depresses me how “Support your local police” has over the past half century become a political thing. It’s like watching TV in a room full of people who want to raise or lower the brightness, & nobody wants to adjust the contrast.

  11. Notice if you will, that the main sin of unions – extortion of consumers, is no problem here.

  12. The situation is much as described in “Island of Vice” in which Teddy Roosevelt tries to make stick the very prohibitionism, blue laws and myriad meddlesome victimless crime ordinances that created the extortion and variable enforcement situation Howard Taft warned against. Tammany Society played the part of the policemen’s unions, protecting crooked cops while raking in graft and kickbacks from all manner of sordid, coercive exploitation of the poor, weak, ignorant and disadvantaged. The scenario was repeated in 1932 after prohibition bloated organized crime and mischief into a force having more money than the federal government. In both cases most of the abuses came from puritanical efforts to enforce religious piety, which is very different from the “free exercise thereof” protected by the First Amendment.

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