George Floyd

The Case for Abolishing Police Unions

Cops must be held accountable for their actions.

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For my internet video this week, my staff showed me clips of violent cops.

It's not just Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes—it's the other cops who just watch.

It's the Buffalo cops who floored a protester and simply walked by as he lay unconscious, bleeding out of his ear. It's a cop in Philadelphia, swinging his baton into protestors, the Atlanta police needlessly tasing two college students, the NYC cops beating a bicyclist, and dozens of cases where police lied about what they'd done until bodycams or cellphone cameras revealed the truth.

None of this justifies looting, arson, and violence against other cops.

But I understand the rage.

Policing is the rare profession given where employees are given a legal right to use deadly force. Most officers use that power responsibly.

But America has 800,000 cops. If just a fraction is racist or sadistic, that's a lot of racist and sadistic bullies.

What can be done about that?

"The problem is repeat offenders. The system doesn't fire those cops," says Washington Post columnist Radley Balko. "The job of a union is to protect the interest of its members, really at any cost." So, bad cops keep policing.

The officer who killed George Floyd had 18 complaints filed against him.

A San Antonio cop was caught challenging prisoners to "take off your cuffs and fight for your freedom!" Then he did it again. Technicalities in his union's contract forced police to reinstate him, twice.

"There's a strong argument to be made that we need to get rid of police unions entirely," says Balko.

What's the union's side of the story?

Cops have a hard job. They must make split-second decisions and act as peacekeepers, baby sitters, marriage counselors, and more. They deal with people at the worst time of those people's lives. It may be why officers have a high suicide rate.

"Unions are there for a reason," says Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. "You have to protect these men and women."

After two New York City cops drove into a crowd of protesters, I asked Cosme to justify that.

"Crowds are throwing bricks at them! You get to a state of panic. You can't go forward. Can't go backwards. So you try to get out of the situation!"

He added, "The police should police themselves."

"But you don't," I said. "They're not held accountable. Especially union officers. They do it again and again. It gets erased from their records."

Cosme disagrees. "They are disciplined….If you don't have these protections, then no one's going to want to be a police officer."

But only about half of America's police belong to a union. Where cops are not unionized, says Balko, "there's no shortage of police officers."

Police unions also make police departments harder to manage.

In crime-ridden Camden, New Jersey, union cops took so much sick time and family leave that, most days, nearly 30 percent of the force just didn't show up. So, Camden fired all of them.

Camden rehired some, but only those willing to go along with new rules that made it easier to fire and discipline.

The result: Murder went down, and Camden saved money.

Per-officer costs dropped from $182,168 to $99,605. That allowed Camden to double the size of its force from "bare bones" to "near the highest police presence of any city."

Extra police allow for community policing—more people walk the beat, talking to residents.

Unfortunately, today's protesters rarely mention police unions. Instead, they say: "Defund the police! Fund community programs, like job training."

But that won't stop crime. America has already spent trillions on job training and other government social engineering that rarely works. Initially, the programs are staffed by well-intended people who want to help. But over time, they become wasteful, ossified bureaucracies, like most government programs.

We need cops. Police presence does reduce crime.

But we need cops who can be held responsible for their actions.

COPYRIGHT 2020 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC.
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

NEXT: Racially Skewed Policing Is Not a Statistical Mirage

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  1. How about “defund the police unions”?

    1. It’s an interesting idea. Banning police unions outright would violate their freedom of association, so that’s a nonstarter. But if they were prohibited from collecting membership dues, at least the taxpayers at large wouldn’t be on the hook for (as much of) their funding. Then the unions would be forced to take their case to the world and justify their existence to potential donors. Force them to sink or swim on the marketplace of ideas instead of suckle at the public teat.

      1. I meant as a slogan. Maybe set up behind the chanters, and every time they finish, throw out a quick “…unions” and see who picks up on it.

        But I don’t see any problem with restricting cop unions to negotiating just pay, or really even banning them altogether. There is something unseemly about “public servants” negotiating with other “public servants”, and “negotiating” belongs in quotes also. It’s just negotiation theater. a play within a play, and that seems to me it ought to allow considerable constitutional restrictions on government employee unions altogether. Democrat politicians would never go for it, seeing how much campaign contributions they get from all unions, but especially the public servant ones.

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      2. While not banned, they should have no special powers that regular people don’t; the city should not negotiate with them, they shouldn’t get press coverage.

        And if cops strike, fire them all, like other public servants should be.

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      3. Banning police unions outright would violate their freedom of association, so that’s a nonstarter.

        No one wants to violate the right to freely associate. “Ban” in these cases just means that the government body overseeing the police would no longer recognize the union as a negotiating body. They can hang out together all they want– but when contract time rolls around, they’re not at the table any more.

  2. “The job of any union is to defend its members, really at any cost.”

    Bullshit! Do you think a member of the plumbers union who gets sent to a fix a toilet can go to the wrong address, batter down the door, strangle the resident, shoot their dog——and face no consequences other than possibly being granted some additional paid vacation?

    Police unions should not be defunded, they must be completely destroyed!

    1. Back in 2000, there was actually a great article talking about the difference between plumbers unions and public sector unions. Basically, if the Union had a monopoly enforced by the government, it became like the police unions. That is, if the government had laws requiring companies to recognize and always use the government workers, then the Union would basically metastasize into a bureaucratic nightmare. And there were various levels of this- often just the government requiring that all government work required unions caused this to happen. This happens in Colorado where many state or city owned properties (like stadiums and conference centers) require Union contractors, and this leads to slow work and high costs.

      On the other hand, when the government does NOT enforce a monopoly, the Unions actually offer an intriguing choice for businesses. They set regular rates for work, but because these are generally higher than market, they have to really make it worth the business’s while. They police (har har) their membership like a guild to ensure that when you hire a union plumber, you are getting some basic minimum of quality. And the businesses have an office that they can go to to get labor (rather than just hunting around in the yellow pages) and handle disputes.

      This “guild” model of unions actually ensures that the only way the union exists is if it gives both sides- the plumber and the employer a good value proposition.

      1. +1

        But because public sector unions lobby for it, they are almost always enforced monopolies. It’s an inherent conflict of interest, because when the government is the boss and also the entity which empowers the union, it ends up being the government negotiating with itself. There is a financial incentive between the two sections to have actual debate on salaries, but in terms of behavioral accountability, there is no such incentive.

  3. I don’t think there’s anything as evil in America as cop culture and the police state that supports it. What makes it especially stomach turning is the way the evil is dressed up and masqueraded as something good.

    1. I would also include politicians, judges and district attorneys in that police culture.

      1. It’s probably the most difficult problem there is: a civil society needs to have an impartial and independent justice system of some sort in order to function, simply to address the worst crimes of humanity. The alternative is vigilantism and chaos. But how do you ensure that justice system doesn’t evolve into the voracious, corrupt, out of control monstrosity we have in America today. There’s no simple solution for this problem other than being vigilant in demanding accountability.

        1. INDIVIDUAL accountability. Ditch QI and require liability insurance. The bad ones would see their premiums skyrocket and quit or get tossed out. Even a union won’t tolerate a few very expensive ‘assets’.

      2. I agree, the judges that sign off on these no knocks without even glancing at the evidence or checking the address is correct should be held just as responsible as the cops that bust down the doors. Not sure if anything can be done at the federal level as this is a state manner but I believe they can outlaw public sector unions constitutionally. I believe at the federal level they were not allowed until Kennedy issued an executive order, even FDR thought they were a bad idea.

  4. One problem is that city governments, often Democrats, will just roll over for the police unions, just like they do for any unions. I think it’s encoded in their DNA.

    1. Not just roll over, but double down on the circle jerk that includes public employee unions, politicians, and related special interests.

    2. The biggest problem though is a culture that increasingly wants to see ideological “others” kneeling in front of them. They want the police to be the guys forcing these people to kneel.

      Elitists across the country have wanted “Others” not to do drugs, not to drink alcohol on sundays, not to smoke, not to drink sugary drinks, not to have sex in kinky ways. These prohibitions have been enforced by police. When we require our police to enforce our quirks of morality, they will always, always become a superset of morality. It is the natural condition.

  5. “The result: Murder went down, and Camden saved money.”

    The rest of the story:
    https://thefederalist.com/2020/06/16/no-camden-new-jersey-didnt-defund-the-police-it-increased-them/

    1. In crime-ridden Camden, New Jersey, union cops took so much sick time and family leave that, most days, nearly 30 percent of the force just didn’t show up. So, Camden fired all of them.

      The lie that won’t die.

  6. A Libertarian should not propose legislation to restrict freedoms of association. What should happen is that the police unions negotiate with the actual agency that pays them, like other unions. That agency is the taxpayer; union contracts should have to be approved by referendum.

    1. This is an interesting idea, and I like it at first glance. However, after figuring on it a minute, I think this would actually give more leverage to the unions (excepting the last three months, of course). Most voters neither understand nor give a shit about fiscal restraint or personal accountability. A few sob stories about single mother police officers trying to make ends meet and not having adequate job security goes a long way. Compounding that is the voters most motivated to get to the polls will be friends and family of officers, most others will likely be indifferent. At least elected administrators have to worry about balancing the city budget, most voters don’t know what that even means.

    2. If taxpayers have the same freedom of association, that includes the freedom NOT to associate with Unions.

      Let cops associate however they want. When it comes time to hire, fire, and negotiate salary with them, I as the taxpayer choose to negotiate with them one on one behind closed doors.

      1. Except you have no authority to negotiate and have cede that to others.

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  8. All public employee unions should be abolished. Police unions protect those who are most in need of protection – the really bad actors – as does SEIU for those who never try to perform. If you have stood waiting for a permit at the county while the staff sit texting on their cell phones while avoiding eye contact you may have only lost 15 minutes of your life. The public sector unions not only make it almost impossible to fire cops but also social workers and teachers.
    Why? If the head of a regular union, say OCAW, were to enter into a verbal contract to give a person on the oil company board money he could use to win support in his bid to become CEO in return for future wages and benefits and it was found out, all would to to jail. If SEIU or AFT give money to a campaign for the same promises the candidate gets elected and the union gets what they want.
    Of course the workers can associate freely, but the government will not bargain with them as a unit.

  9. No, there isn’t anything about becoming a cop that means you forfeit your right to peaceably assemble. Using the government to violate the First Amendment might seem like a solution to our problems, but it’s never been the solution before and certainly isn’t the solution here. The reason the police are unaccountable in Minneapolis and other municipalities that are dominated by Democratic party machines isn’t because they have unions.

    The reason the police are unaccountable in those cities is because the voters in those cities refuse to hold their representatives on the city council responsible at the ballot box for approving union contracts that shield the police from accountability. If the voters won’t vote for anybody unless they’re a Democrat–no matter what they do–then city council members won’t make policy with the voters in mind. They’ll seek to please the people who control the nomination process–which is often teachers unions, government employees’ unions, and law enforcement unions.

    Suffice it to say that violating the First Amendment isn’t the solution to voters who refuse to vote for anyone unless they’re nominated by the Democratic Party.

    Violating the right to be free from unreasonable searches or using the government to violate the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishments isn’t the solution to terrorism either. Violating the right to bear arms isn’t the solution to armed robberies or mass shootings. There is no good substitute for the willingness of voters to vote for the opposition party in a democracy, and using the government violate the First Amendment or our other constitutional rights is the worst solution of all.

    1. Some pretty basic points :

      1. Police aren’t just unaccountable in “municipalities that are dominated by Democratic party machines”, they’re unaccountable pretty much everywhere.

      2. Sorry, police unions aren’t the cause of police being unwilling or unable to police themselves. That problem existed long before police unions and it exists in police departments that have no union. It is hardwired into the DNA of police culture.

      3. That said, police unions are part of the problem, not the solution.

      4. To claim police are unaccountable because of Democratic toadying to PDs is absolutely astounding. Fawning over the police and begging for their political support is ubiquitous in politicians of both parties. GOP pols and supporters are more likely to support questionable police actions. Republican are blocking more demanding police reform right now (and, no, I’m not talking about “defunding”)

      1. “1. Police aren’t just unaccountable in “municipalities that are dominated by Democratic party machines”, they’re unaccountable pretty much everywhere.”

        By “everywhere”, do you mean New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle? Because that’s not everywhere. That’s everywhere that Democratic party machines have had near monopolies on the city council for generations. One-party states, like China, Cuba, and North Korea are generally unresponsive to the wishes of voters–because their votes don’t determine who does and who doesn’t set policy. Single party cities feature the same thing for the same reason. The people who control the nominating process are the ones the city council is aiming to please, and the law enforcement unions are way up there at the top of the list.

        Other communities where elections are contested and won by different parties at different times don’t have that problem to the same extent. Why would they? Another symptom of the same disease is the outrageous pension benefits they give government employees in these cities and states. Because these municipal and state governments are only accountable to the nominating processes to run as a Democrat and not to voters in the general election, they give the taxpayers’ money away to the unions that control the nominating process. They know that it doesn’t matter because the voters will keep voting for the Democrat anyway!

        Show me a city where the pension benefits are out of control, and I’ll show you a city where the police are largely unaccountable as a function of the union contracts the people on the city council approved. They both happen for the same reason–because the voters refuse to vote for anyone nominated by the opposition party no matter what horrible polices the Democratic machine has put in place. Show me a city where the pension system isn’t a big problem, and I’ll show you a place where elections to city council are reasonably contested. The demands of law enforcement unions, in such cities, are balanced against the demands of taxpayers among other considerations.

        1. Ken : Boil your screed down to its gritty essence and it amounts to this : Police misconduct only occurs where people regularly vote Democrat. Never where people regularly vote Republican. Never where support shifts between the parties. In those areas, police misconduct doesn’t exist.

          Now I’ve seen you “believe” some pretty wacko things in this forum, so maybe you actually believe this. But you’re only getting started! Having created this shibboleth of your own imagination, you then (predictably) decide it proves everything.

          Of course the opposite is true. The “Blue Wall” existed long before police unions; it exists where there are no police unions.

          1. “Boil your screed down to its gritty essence and it amounts to this : Police misconduct only occurs where people regularly vote Democrat.”

            Didn’t make it past the first line–you need to work on your reading comprehension.

            The fact that the police are largely unaccountable in the cities I mentioned is largely attributable to their union contracts. Those contracts, in these cities, were approved by Democratic machines that have controlled these cities’ governments for generations.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Council

            Who are you going to blame for the clauses in those contracts if not the Democrat city councils that have run them since the 1960s?

            Who are you going to blame for not being willing to vote against Democrats in those cities if not the voters?

            1. All true. Also the DAs and cops are usually working together. It’s hard for a DA to prosecute a guy he needs next week, or every week. Need truly neutral prosecutors from elsewhere.

      2. “To claim police are unaccountable because of Democratic toadying to PDs is absolutely astounding.”

        The only astounding thing about it that people are so ignorant of what is happening and why. Educate yourself:

        “By collecting and analyzing an original dataset of 178 union
        contracts from many of the nation’s largest police departments, this article shows how these agreements can frustrate police accountability efforts. A substantial number of these agreements limit officer interrogations after alleged misconduct, mandate the destruction of disciplinary records, ban civilian oversight, prevent anonymous civilian complaints, indemnify officers in the event of civil suits, and limit the length of internal investigations.”

        —-Duke Law Journal, March 2017

        https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3890&context=dlj

        The fact is that the union contracts that protect the police from accountability in these cities were approved by the city councils of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle–and the fact is that the city councils in those municipalities have been controlled by Democratic party machines for generations. The fact is that one-party governments have common features cross culturally and throughout history, and it’s the same thing in those cities. And if you’re talking about this and refusing to acknowledge those facts, it isn’t because they aren’t facts. It’s probably because you don’t want to acknowledge those facts.

    2. Ken,

      There is no First Amendment requirement that police unions be enshrined in law. If the police want to organize, that is their right. But when we speak of “abolishing” unions, it means removing their special status as an entity in local and state laws. There is no 1st Amendment right for states and cities to negotiate pay and terminations with those unions.

      1. “There is no First Amendment requirement that police unions be enshrined in law.”

        That is correct.

        This is only a function of the voters and what they’re willing to tolerate.

        If they won’t vote against city council members who approve union contracts that contain clauses that make the police unaccountable, there isn’t anything we can or should do about that–other than work to persuade the voters to change their minds.

        It’s like the old paradox left to us by the Weimar Republic: Should a democracy be allowed to vote itself out of existence? Only in this case, the question is a little different: What should do we do in a democracy with voters who refuse to vote out the city council members who are oppressing them?

        Just like with everything else, the solution is not to violate the First Amendment. The solution isn’t elitism by inflicting our own preferred choices on the voters either. The solution is persuasion.

        They must learn to hold their own elected officials accountable through elections, or they should continue to suffer the consequences of their poor choices at the ballot box. Does that mean they should be beaten by unaccountable police? No, of course not, and we should continue to prosecute every case of police brutality we find. If the voters refuse to hold their city council members responsible at the ballot box for making the police unaccountable, however, they made that bed–and they can fix it when they want.

        Selling the First Amendment short doesn’t address that issue in the least.

  10. Giving money to social programs just attracts charity whores who get much of the money.

  11. Per-officer costs dropped from $182,168 to $99,605. That allowed Camden Cherry Hill and Voorhees to double the size of its Camden’s force from “bare bones” to “near the highest police presence of any city.”

    FTFY.

  12. This single most critical police reform will also be widely and firmly opposed by Democrats who will recognize that once the police unions fall, the other public sector unions may be soon to follow. Many of the concessions to the police unions are also present in other public-sector union contracts. It’s just that the consequences of these concessions to the other unions are not matters of life and death. Decertifying police unions will become a line in the sand that Democrats writ large will soundly oppose; it won’t be just the urban political machines standing in opposition to this.

  13. Why are we talking so much about qualified immunity, police unions, police militarization, etc. when the single biggest cause of police abuse of force is the burdensome regulatory state? I’m mainly talking about the War on Drugs, but also local and state regulations on things like selling cigarettes, carrying knives, carrying guns, etc. These victimless crime laws create the vast majority of the opportunities for police to abuse their power. Get rid of them. End the War on Drugs and police abuse cases will go down ten fold because there will be no more no-knock raids, no more drug stings, no more undercover operations. As an added bonus, the black market for drugs will dry up effectively de-funding most organized crime in the country. Drug-related violence will go down as well. It’s a win-win-win situation.

  14. “Unfortunately, today’s protesters rarely mention police unions. Instead, they say: “Defund the police! Fund community programs, like job training.”

    But that won’t stop crime. America has already spent trillions on job training and other government social engineering that rarely works. Initially, the programs are staffed by well-intended people who want to help. But over time, they become wasteful, ossified bureaucracies, like most government programs.”

    The diversion of racism from a problem of statism is turning this into two bigger government statist gangs the police and racial grievance professionals squabbling about which gets to grow government and exploits and abuse citizens next and more.

    Odd how when government funded cops clash with government funded, albeit slightly less directly so, protesters they all gain and only private citizens lose.

  15. All public employee unions and their members are properly understood as criminal gangs victimizing citizens. Yes, police unions and their members may be the violent street gangs; but let us not, totally, overlook the white-collar criminals.

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  16. Police unions will never go away because they are a business. And, by the way, policing and criminal justice are business as well. Don’t believe me? Believe law enforcement then:

    “I have been in this business for 25 years. I became a cop to help people, not to have anyone victimized.” San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs

    “I have been in this business a long time and the sadness only seems to grow. still hope society will learn how to deal with abusers and create a fully functional mental health system.” Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard

    “I have been in this business a long time, but this is one of the saddest …” Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten

    And those are just three quick examples. Sheriffs, Police Chiefs, Prosecutors, say it over and over again. But nobody listens. Criminal Justice is business. And when we try to take away one of the pillars of that business…well, it ain’t gonna happen so we don’t have to even speculate about what might happen.

    1. Mind your own business.

  17. The Union people that got Floyd’s killer reinstated or prevented his discipline the previous 17 times, should be charge as complicit in the murder, just like the cops that stood around and did nothing to stop it.
    This is a matter of public safety. The police can’t be allowed to violate their oath of office and still have that authority.
    The BAR Association is also at the root of this all.

  18. The problem is repeat offenders. The system doesn’t fire those cops. Fact: The officer who killed George Floyd had 18 complaints filed against him. electricians midland tx

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