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Unaccountable Police Unions Endanger Minorities and Everyone Else

Obama and conservatives need to stop beating around the bush and confront police unions squarely.

Over the last two weeks, the nation has weathered two horrific retaliatory slayings of police officers, first in Dallas and then in Baton Rouge. In his funeral oration for the slain Dallas Police Riot GearGmevi Photo Dreamstime.comofficers, President Obama lamented many reasons for the rising "cycle of violence" between law enforcement and minority communities: Poverty, unemployment, underinvestment in schools, lack of rehab programs, easy availability of guns, and more. Meanwhile, after the Baton Rouge ambush, Donald Trump yet again blamed the breakdown of "law and order" in inner cities.

Surely there is at least some truth to all of this. But there's another critical reform to America's criminal justice system that is little talked about, but very important: Hidebound police unions that block elementary transparency and public accountability at every level.

Thanks to America's history of state-enforced slavery and segregation, black communities have rarely trusted the police. But relations have only gotten worse in the age of cell phones, when footage of innocent black men getting shot by police officers, often white, keeps popping up with disturbing regularity. The Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown represented a tipping point that fully launched the Black Lives Matter movement. And the Louisiana and Minnesota shootings this month that triggered the Dallas protests represent a new level of rising frustration and anger.

Conservative police apologists often dismiss this frustration, claiming that police shootings are the result not of bigotry and bias by police but greater black crime rates. And to prove their point they have seized on a study by Harvard University's Roland G. Fryer, black himself, that found no evidence that police are more likely to use lethal force against blacks and Hispanics than whites. (However, the cops are 50 percent more likely to use non-lethal force such as slapping, slamming, and punching against blacks and Hispanics than whites and Asians.)

But Fryer, a careful researcher with a stellar reputation, doesn't have great confidence in his own findings because comprehensive national data about police shootings doesn't exist. His investigation was therefore limited to select areas of Texas, Florida, and Los Angeles that were willing to share their internal records. And this, he acknowledges, introduced a massive self-selection bias in his sample. "These departments only supplied the data because they are either enlightened or were not concerned about what the analysis would reveal," he noted.

So why don't national stats exist? Because America's 18,000 law enforcement agencies don't want them to.

The Crime Control Act of 1994 asked the FBI to annually compile and publish data about the use of police force in all instances so that the country could keep track of trends of police violence, identify problematic precincts, or catch enforcement bias. But union representatives of law enforcement agencies successfully lobbied the feds to make reporting optional. So most departments now simply plead poverty and refuse to comply.

This is a huge problem. In the absence of good data, it is impossible to say definitively if racism is driving police abuse in black communities. And because it is impossible to identify the size and scope of this problem, it is impossible to craft and enact a solution to it—a solution, mind you, that would not only better serve and protect minority communities, but also keep police safer, too.

This is but one example of police unions going to eye-popping lengths to protect rogue cops at the expense of citizens (and the many decent cops who are tainted as well). Consider the binding arbitration that has become a standard feature of virtually all police contracts, which are often negotiated in secrecy. Binding arbitration allows cops to appeal any disciplinary action taken by their superiors to outside arbitrators such as retired judges. In theory, these folks are supposed to be neutral third parties. In reality, they are usually in the pockets of unions and dismiss or roll back a striking two-thirds of all actions, even against cops with a history of abuse and excessive violence. The upshot is that police chiefs are powerless to clean house, even as community complaints pile up. This is exactly what was happening in Baltimore when Freddie Gray died during his ride to the police station last year.

But chiefs aren't the only ones rendered impotent by union contracts. The 1994 federal law gave the Justice Department expanded powers to investigate civil rights abuses in police departments and mandate reforms through agreements called consent decrees. But Justice's prescribed reforms often don't have to be implemented if they conflict with existing union contracts. Last month, the leftist In These Times, usually friendly to public unions, published its investigation of 17 consent decrees that Justice signed between 1997 and 2016. In at least seven of the 17 cases, "collective bargaining agreements presented a major roadblock to implementing them," so that even after Justice concluded its probe, nothing really changed.

Among the special protections that police enjoy that the Justice Department is often powerless to override are rules:

  • Allowing police departments to destroy civilian complaint records against officers.
  • Giving cops involved in shootings several days before filing their statements. This gives them crucial time to get their stories straight, in essence turning the notorious "blue code of silence" into official policy.
  • Barring citizens from filing complaints anonymously and revealing their names to the offending officer. Outrageously, however, names of officers involved in shootings are often withheld from the public. Indeed, The Washington Post reported that last year 210 people were fatally shot by police officers whose identity was never publicly revealed by their departments. This of course means that citizens have to fear retribution if they complain against a rogue cop even as the cop has little fear of being held accountable by citizens.

Police unions have even prevailed on state lawmakers to enshrine some of these protections into law through "Police Bill of Rights" in 14 states.

Police unions insist these special protections are necessary given the inherent dangerousness of their jobs. They often demonize anyone who questions them as "anti cop." (Just ask New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.) But it is inconceivable that any profession that has managed to so insulate itself from elementary checks and balances isn't rife with abuse. And if that's the case, then it would be a miracle for the most vulnerable communities to not be disproportionately affected. That is just how the world works.

Neither President Obama nor Donald Trump are doing anyone any favors by ignoring all of this. There is no hope that Trump will ever speak honestly. But if the president wants to leave a legacy of healing, he ought to forthrightly confront the fact that when those who've been charged with protecting the laws of the country write laws to protect themselves, they endanger everyone—including themselves.

This column originally appeared in The Week.

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  • colorblindkid||

    "Unaccountable Police Unions Endanger Everybody". FTFY
    I don't see how people don't notice the parallels between police and teachers unions. They both care nothing about the people they're supposed to serve, protect the small number of bad members within their ranks that tarnish the reputations of all of them, and use their forced dues for political donations, which is compelled speech. You'd think the left with their hatred of police and the right with their hatred of teachers would find some common ground, but of course not.

  • ||

    Haha. Yeah right. Politicians love public sector unions. Instead of having to go hat in hand to every LEO substation and school in your district, you can meet with 2-3 union lobbyists and raise the same amount of money, and pretty much get yourself a decent bloc of votes.

  • Princess Trigger||

    And the endorsement gets you the cop-lovers and Schoolz! voters.

  • ||

    At least the teachers just get on FB and lie about how hard their job is. "I was at school from 7:30 till 5:00 and then I went home and worked!" Yeah? I call that a weekday. They rarely defend their colleagues raping or murdering random citizens.

  • DOOMco||

    That kills me. My former teacher always has that Nonsense on Facebook.
    It's the 5th grade.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Well, murdering anyway.

  • WTF||

    I used to be a teacher. It's easy work.

  • mtrueman||

    "They both care nothing about the people they're supposed to serve"

    Nonsense. They are unions. They are supposed to serve their members, not the public.

  • Hamster of Doom||

    OT: On internet comments, with bonus Nick Denton

    Throwing out the entire concept of on-site comments because a jackass said something mean or pointed out you were wrong about something has never been much of a solution. Subsequently claiming you muzzled your customers because you wanted to "build relationships" and "value conversation" only informs these muted community members you also think they're all incredible, irredeemable morons. If that's the brand message you're actually pursuing in your quest to nab more advertising eyeballs? Phenomenal job.

    You hear that, Postrel? Hmmph.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Did Virginia Postrel shut down comments at H&R? Does she even work for Reason anymore?

  • Tundra||

    It's still funny, Hugh. Because Postrel hates us for our freedoms.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    But she does hate us.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Oh, well I guess I can see how expressing a negative opinion of the commentariat is the same thing as shutting comments down.

  • Citizen X||

    "That's not technically hate speech."

    "WELL, I HATED IT."

  • Hamster of Doom||

    Hugh, wash your vagina. The sandcastle fortress you've got built up in there is ruining our fun.

  • This Machine||

    BURRRRRRRN.

  • commoditous can't go for that||

    TIWTANVPL

  • Tundra||

    Damn your new handle, commoditous. I can't get that fucking song out of my head.

  • commodious uses every charact||

    Better?

  • Tundra||

    Ha! Yes, much.

    *fires up Minor Threat to eliminate H&O*

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Good points, Hugh.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Despite all the media's bluster about social media being an adequate replacement for an "unsavable" comment section, the reality is many bigger media brands just don't like having real human beings pointing out when they're wrong in such an obvious and public fashion. If you've spent any time writing on the Internet, you probably know that the comment section, warts and all, is also stocked with some very bright people with wide ranging expertise who'll often provide invaluable corrections. Possibly right after they make a joke about your mom, but still
  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    That's what your mom said when I was shaving her back.

  • Citizen X||

    Talk about "warts and all."

  • ||

    That's what your mom said

    That's why Crusty put it in block-quotes

  • Pay up, Palin's Buttplug!||

    Like a pitot tube is not a machine gun.

  • ||

    That's for the pilot to pee out of.

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Denton makes it clear that maintaining communication with the company's customers is not only common sense, but embracing on-site comments makes money:

    I'd agree with this. I trolled frequented Fox and CNN when they had comments. After they shut them down...why bother?

  • R C Dean||

    OTOH, being able to deliver the incredible, irredeemable moron demographic would be quite lucrative.

  • straffinrun||

    ... is also stocked with some very bright people with wide ranging expertise who'll often provide invaluable corrections. Possibly right after they make a joke about your mom, but still.

    Yeah, I've got wide ranging expertise on your mom.

  • Citizen X||

    Who doesn't? She's like the town bicycle: absolutely covered in syphilis.

  • straffinrun||

    Schwiiiiiing. (They still make those, right?)

  • commoditous can't go for that||

    Vox sucks because they don't permit comments, and for no other reason.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    This guy is another reason.

  • lap83||

    He's like a smarmy mouse

  • Dennis, Constitutional Peasant||

    [Nick Denton] is among this "willfully naive" minority that believes news comments are worth saving

    what they seem to gloss over w/ Kinja - the gawker platform - is that it basically is designed for "herd self-moderation".

    "Approved comments", anyone? i think its an interesting and valid alternative platform, but its hardly a system which encourages open and free-debate. The natural tendency of the system is to eliminate outsider content. Consequently you will find no more univocal a hive-mind than gawkerites.

    Salon, interestingly, has an entirely different spin on the same bullshit claim to care about 'commenters content' - they keep the comments theoretically-unmoderated... but *Ghost Ban/Shadow ban* people who they think are ideologically out of the fold. A person can comment freely, but despite their own remarks remaining visible to themselves, they never actually exist on the site for anyone else. Its "the appearance of open-discussion" without its substance.

    side note = the quote you cited wasn't actually Nick Denton - its the person commenting on Nick's remarks. I don't think you were being misleading - just noting for clarity to others.

  • Dennis, Constitutional Peasant||

    re: the Salon thing - here's a (unintentionally) funny article ("How Salon tamed the trolls and saved its online comments") which celebrates Salon's comparative "open-ness" and their 'expertise' with integrating comments while other media were getting rid of them.

    the first few comments on *that* piece point out that Salon is in fact a 1984-esqe police-state where commenters are disappeared constantly.

    I was a longtime poster, since practically the beginning of Salon. But I started to notice that posts that showed up to me when I was logged in were not showing up to anyone else when I was logged out. That's a pretty insidious form of censorship-- if you're not paying attention, you might not even notice you've been sneakily banned. I tried to contact Salon about it and, predictably, got no repIy. I guess that's what they call their "time outs."

    You know what I got put in these "time outs" for? One time it was for pointing out that Salon had posted several articles in a row defending Islamic governments in what the articles called "moderate" countries, without noting in even one of those articles that all of the countries mentioned had either the death penalty or severe physical punishment or imprisonment for being gay. No profanity in that post; nothing that violated Salon's supposed rules. Agree or disagree, is that trolling?
  • commoditous can't go for that||

    Oh sure, blame the victims. *scoffs*

  • straffinrun||

    President Obama lamented many reasons for the rising "cycle of violence" between law enforcement and minority communities: Poverty, unemployment, underinvestment in schools, lack of rehab programs, easy availability of guns, and more.

    No. Kind of. Fuck no. Kind of (More like the WOD). Hell no.

  • ||

    No, I agree. Cops are granted access to guns way to easily.

  • The Fusionist||

    Let me run this up the flagpole...I don't know if it's actually a good idea, but I don't know that it *isn't*.

    In the U.S. Constitution, Article IV Section 4, it says, "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of government..."

    Not only do the feds have the *power* to make sure that policymaking in the states is done by the elected representatives of the people, the feds *must* exercise this power ("*shall* guarantee").

    What do you call a situation in which policymaking is done by government unions, not by the people's elected representatives? Doesn't sound like a republican government to me.

    Why can't Congress pass a law that the terms and conditions of government employment, and the powers and duties of government employees, must be decided by the elected representatives of the people, and any attempt by unions to butt into this process is illegal. Also, that "union contracts" purporting to bind the elected representatives of the people in their dealings with their own employees, are absolutely void and of no legal force.

    Likewise, government employees, if they are appointed, should be subject to being fired by elected representatives if they lose the confidence of those elected representatives.

  • The Fusionist||

    The exception should be positions like university professor or other research jobs where the jobholder needs protection, in which case it would be permissible to offer him/her a contract that he/she can only be fired for cause, but "for cause" would include any crime or violation of applicable standards, and once a violation has been established through due process, whether to fire the offender or give him/her another chance should be a decision by an elected official(s).

  • commoditous can't go for that||

    that the terms and conditions of government employment, and the powers and duties of government employees, must be decided by the elected representatives of the people

    They are, though; they're decided by men delegated that authority by the elected representatives of the people. It's why executive-branch agencies enjoy so much latitude over Congress despite arrogating to themselves powers traditionally given to Congress, because they've been entrusted with those decisions so Congressmen never need worry about answering to voters themselves.

  • ||

    Why can't Congress pass a law that the terms and conditions of government employment, and the powers and duties of government employees, must be decided by the elected representatives of the people, and any attempt by unions to butt into this process is illegal.

    What's the distinction between a Union influencing an election process and a labor co-op or staffing and payroll corporation exercising free speech under CU? Employees are free to leave their staffing corporations and/or seek employment on their own?

    I'm not opposed to your idea or it's intent, I think public unions represent an inherent conflict of interest on several levels. You can't be in favor of blind justice, government equality, representative democracy, fiscal conservatism and public unions. I'm just leery of unintended consequences; conflicting your own interests is stupid, and just legislating away stupid is seldom effective.

  • sgreffenius||

    Good argument. Imagine if you could apply the same principles to employees of the CIA, NSA, and other parts of the secret national security state. Wouldn't it be something if Congress could defund these agencies, because they knew their constituents wanted them to?

    I am not being sarcastic here, but I also don't have hope that republican checks on power have a chance to work anymore.

  • Hank Phillips||

    I recall Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne firing a mess of looters--and Ronnie Reagan fining a mess of Air Traffic Communists... je je je

  • Diane Merriam||

    In a Republic, the government is constrained by the limitations placed on it through a constitution or charter. The term democracy is often confused with the representative democracy used in the United States. The United States is a Republic, not a Democracy, and its elected officials are supposed to be bound by the protections of the Constitution.

    A Republican form of government is explicitly *NOT* run on the basis of majority rule.

    Appointee positions can be fired by Congress via the process of impeachment.

  • commoditous can't go for that||

    it is impossible to say definitively if racism is driving police abuse in black communities

    Racism is not driving police abuse in black communities. For one, they're integrated forces with cops of all ethnicities implicated in abusive incidents.

    But more importantly, any issue of racism pales compared with more pressing problems: decades of unchallenged progressive rule turning once-prosperous communities into cesspits of dependency and social disaffection and violence, and decades of cop-friendly legislation attempting to corral the cesspits. Racism almost certainly exists within the ranks. How could it not when criminality is so lopsided? Not everyone, low-IQ cops least of all, are capable of shelving their disdain for a class of people with whom they interact in upsetting ways on a near-daily basis. And I do mean class: to the extent that bigotry pervades the force, it's class bigotry correlated with race, not race explicitly. But that's neither here nor there. Racializing incidents is almost always a distraction from real questions of political incompetence. Abusive cops and overweening unions and disproportionate rates of criminality are symptoms of that disease.

  • Adans smith||

    Public unions are a blight and protect bad actors. Has anyone noticed that the two shooters in question both were vets and served in the hell holes in Iraq and the Afgan wars? They were,at one time,'heroes'. I'm sure being in a war zone for no reason didn't play a part in their mental state.

  • ||

    Not the first time vets have taken on cops.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Actually, the Anacostia Flats battle in 1932. Federal agents attacked veterans occupying DC buildings scheduled for demolition, wanting to discount their WWI bonus bonds before maturity. One Chicago veteran, William Hashka, was murdered by Treasury agents, and all hell broke loose with those mini-tanks from the Big House movie, cavalry charges, bayonets, tear gas... with Douglas MacArthur calling the shots from federal troops called in by prohibitionist republican Herbert Hoover. It was a thing of beauty to the Dems, and distracted attention from NY mayor Jimmy Walker's tax evasion travails.

  • Citizen X||

    I expect Tony will be along any minute to squawk about how calls for police reform are REALLY an attempt to do away with collective bargaining.

  • commoditous can't go for that||

    He's almost got it right. Calls for reforms are an attempt to do away with police unions BECAUSE collective bargaining for state employees is such a clusterfuck of awful.

  • Pay up, Palin's Buttplug!||

    The clusterfuck of awful is good because it was obtained via collective bargaining. /Tony

  • Citizen X||

    That's pretty much what he argued yesterday. Tony sure does lean pretty heavily on collective decision-making, for someone who so openly hates people.

  • Pay up, Palin's Buttplug!||

    The Crime Control Act of 1994 asked the FBI to annually compile and publish data about the use of police force in all instances so that the country could keep track of trends of police violence, identify problematic precincts, or catch enforcement bias. But union representatives of law enforcement agencies successfully lobbied the feds to make reporting optional. So most departments now simply plead poverty and refuse to comply.

    So, here's an idea… have the FBI pay for the collection of data. Now the state/local police departments can't claim poverty and refuse to comply.

  • ||

    I am not going to read this article. I kinda gave up on Shikha. I will give her this: She is absolutely correct, by reading the title. The problem isnt the goon cop here and there, the problem is that they are not held accountable.

  • mtrueman||

    "The problem isnt the goon cop here and there, the problem is that they are not held accountable."

    They are accountable. Unions have elections and everything. If the membership disagrees with how the union leadership is running things, they can replace them. That's pretty accountable.

  • Diane Merriam||

    No one should be *forced* to join a union in order to get a job. There's nothing wrong with collective bargaining units as long as they don't have any special privileges. If a group really is being treated unfairly then there should be no problem with almost anyone wanting that job to join with other workers to get that fair shake. But when there is no choice in the matter then unions become more damaging than the problems that caused them to exist in the first place.

  • mtrueman||

    "No one should be *forced* to join a union in order to get a job."

    I agree. I also believe that we shouldn't expect an organization like a union to be accountable to outsiders. The whole point of a union is to represent its members. Not non-members. Whether these members were forced to join or not is another issue.

    I doubt abolishing police unions will accomplish what you seem to think it will. As long as white people are content with police violence and let it go without demonstrations, not much will change.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Look, the exact same thing happened during the earlier Altruistic Experiment making beer a felony. Cops murdered people right and left. But the press revealed their names and they were hunted down. Federal agent killings in retaliation increased along a parabolic curve until all reporting of numbers was censored in 1931. Reporters hunted down politicians, exposing them for liquor, drugs, prostitution and tax evasion and also haunted teetotalitarian lobbyists and klavern organizers. Senator Edwards of NY and Tydings of Maryland dug out and exposed data on dry murders--and this was a powerful influence toward relegalizing wine and beer.

  • sgreffenius||

    We have said for, oh, maybe fifty years that if you want school reform, you have to give principals power to hire and fire teachers and other staff. It hasn't happened. Teachers unions would never allow it. Similarly, if you want to reform police departments, police chiefs have to have power to hire and fire police officers. Do you think police unions will ever permit that? The difference between school reform and police reform is that teachers don't shoot their students.

  • mtrueman||

    "police chiefs have to have power to hire and fire police officers"

    They do. And police chiefs can be hired and fired as well.

  • Diane Merriam||

    Ask your local police chief if he can actually fire a misbehaving officer in any sort of timely fashion without spending a bloody fortune and months, if not years, of fighting the unions over it.

    Hell, ask anyone that has to deal with a public sector union that question. Police, schools, bureaucrats ...

  • mtrueman||

    "Ask your local police chief if he can actually fire a misbehaving officer in any sort of timely fashion without spending a bloody fortune and months, if not years, of fighting the unions over it."

    Are you against unions defending their members? Or just defending their misbehaving members?

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    It is not just the police, it is all public employee unions, all of whom have been proven to be unaccountable to the taxpayers.

  • mtrueman||

    "it is all public employee unions, all of whom have been proven to be unaccountable to the taxpayers"

    This surprises you? Why should any union be accountable to anyone but its members?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Those looters sure as hell are accountable to the DemoGOP entrenched kleptocracy that hand them jobs for votes and cash.

  • Tamfang||

    Neither President Obama nor Donald Trump are doing anyone any favors by ignoring all of this.

    Oh yes they are: the bad cops and union bosses (do I repeat myself?).

  • Hank Phillips||

    Hilariously karmic that the very same nazi cops that George Waffen Bush teased into a murdering berserker frenzy with asset forfeiture fuelled by greed and impunity are now--the greatest living threat to their own handlers: God's Own Prohibitionists!

  • ||

    Surely there is at least some truth to all of this. But there's another critical reform to America's criminal justice system that is little talked about, but very important: Hidebound police unions that block elementary transparency and public accountability at every level.
    dragon ball super episode 108 http://dragonball-super.co/dra.....e-108.html

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