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Conservatives Need to Put Aside Kneejerk Police Support

It’s time for conservatives to recognize that efforts to reform police departments are as necessary as efforts to reform our public schools.

When it comes to problems in the public schools, my conservative friends are right on target with their critique. These schools often do a poor or mediocre job performing an important function. That's because they lack competition and are funded by political priorities rather than customers. Teachers' unions have undue sway over the entire process. They make it nearly impossible to fire even grossly incompetent teachers and that small percentage harms many students. Those same unions drive up unsustainable benefit costs.

Like everyone else, conservatives appreciate teachers—but they realize that the current taxpayer-funded system needs many reforms and more competition. There's nothing wrong with pointing this out, which is a reality in any government-funded, union-controlled monopoly anywhere in the world.

Yet when it comes to another type of taxpayer-funded, union-controlled monopoly, conservatives lose their sense of perspective. I'm referring, of course, to local and state police agencies. The same dynamic described above works there, too. Police agencies are bureaucratic. Unions protect the bad apples and make it nearly impossible to fire anyone—even officers caught on video misbehaving or being abusive to the public. The agencies hand out unsustainable benefits and have some bizarre spending priorities (tank-like vehicles, etc.). They are secretive and insular. They use asset forfeiture to grab the property of people never convicted or even accused of a crime.

Most of us appreciate police officers, recognizing that they perform an important and tough task. But whenever there's a questionable shooting or bill to increase accountability and expand the public's access to police records, most conservatives instinctively side with the police. Their kneejerk defense of these agencies (although they sometimes criticize their pensions) defies their stated belief in limited, accountable government. Maybe it's because of their dislike of Black Lives Matter and other leftist protesters or their fear of crime, but this is reality. Yet there's nothing anti-police about calling for police reforms any more than it's anti-education to call for school reforms.

"Imagine if I were to tell you there is a large group of government employees, with generous salaries and ridiculously cushy retirement pensions covered by the taxpayer, who enjoy incredible job security and are rarely held accountable even for activities that would almost certainly earn the rest of us prison time," wrote A.J. Delgado in a 2014 column in the National Review. It's a conservative magazine, which makes the article noteworthy. "When there is proven misconduct, these government employees are merely reassigned and are rarely dismissed. The bill for any legal settlements concerning their errors? It, too, is covered by the taxpayers."

The writer called for conservatives to take a more thoughtful approach to the policing issue. Having written about many police use-of-force cases, that's my belief, too. Some of these cases are shocking. Many of them can viewed these days online. Often, a small number of officers are the source of a large number of complaints. They are trained to be unnecessarily aggressive. Officers are rarely punished and often given back their jobs if they aren't ultimately convicted of a crime even if their behavior was atrocious. The union insurance funds pay for the legal defense of police accused of egregious behavior. Union priorities have caused police agencies to focus more on military tactics and less on the hard work of community policing.

Police agencies hide information that makes them or their officers look bad. The rules of engagement are written mainly to protect the officer. Powerful police unions take out politicians who promise to reform the system or pare back pensions and other benefits. Many of those benefits are ludicrous. Have you ever heard of Chief's Disease? Most officers retire on "disability" as a way to slash their tax burden in retirement. It's often viewed as yet another benefit or entitlement.

Does this sound like a system that needs reform?

Yet whenever reforms are proposed most (but not all) conservatives side with the cop unions. A Senate bill in Sacramento would make public some disciplinary records of police accused of sexual abuse or who use deadly force. That measure was a pared-back version of a reform that's 12 years in the making (since the 2006 California Supreme Court Copley decision, which shrouded records in secrecy). It passed out of committee but has a long road ahead. Conservatives ought to embrace greater openness regarding government agencies with life-and-death power, but don't count on it.

No doubt, liberal activists seem to protest everything officers do. They don't make distinctions between an appropriate use of force and an egregious one. They sometimes disrupt meetings and block freeways. That's frustrating and makes it tough for the broader public to understand the problem. Both sides miss the main point. Our policing problems reflect the nature of police agencies. They are unaccountable monopolies, and their employees are in unions that protect the worst among them. It's time for everyone—conservatives included—to recognize that efforts to reform police departments are as necessary as efforts to reform our public schools.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

Photo Credit: Annabelle Marcovici/SIPA USA/Newscom

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  • SQRLSY One||

    First!

    You may carry on, but please do NOT be SILLY!!!

  • Conchfritters||

    So, no more Brickbat? Fuck you, pay me?

  • Zebra Jr.||

    Patience. Trump Republicans want to disband the FBI because they're investigating Trump. State level investigatons of Trump will kick in soon.

    And alternatively, I'm hearing reports Soros has infiltrated police unions... now that's how you reach conservatives.

  • Jerryskids||

    It would be nice to think those who are suddenly anti-LEO when it comes to the FBI might pause a moment to think that maybe the rot is more extensively inherent in the job than they think, but I unfortunately this is the same version of the Dunning-Krueger Effect that causes the electorate to universally condemn Congress as a bunch of slimy shitweasels and yet re-elect their own Congressman "because he's one of the good ones".

  • Zebra Jr.||

    Yep

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    As a left-libertarian, I simultaneously believe that cops are a bunch of racists who terrorize black and brown communities for no reason, and that police are the only ones (besides the military) who should have access to deadly assault weapons like AR-15s.

    #BlackLivesMatter
    #HandsUpDontShoot

  • Don't look at me.||

    Cops cause more crime than they save.

  • Eric||

    Doubtful. But it makes a good slogan.

  • CorruptionMan||

    It's true! Police actually stole more stuff in 2015 than burglars did! Google: "Law enforcement took more stuff than burglars did last year".

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Oh, please. It's ungrammatical and makes little sense. It's a silly slogan, undermined by any smidgen of common sense.

    Which is why we can confidently expect the Establishment Left to adopt it wholesale.

  • sarcasmic||

    They certainly commit more crime than they solve. They tend to ignore crimes with victims (the only true crimes in my opinion) as they vigorously enforce victimless crimes, leaving a trail of robbery and assault in their wake.

  • Ron||

    this maybe true but is that because of laws people wanted enacted and enforced. whose fault is it when the police do what people tell them to do while being ignorant of the consequenses of those actions. People do blindly love the police. I've even had to lecture a marine friend about many of the police wrong doings, he is slowly becoming aware.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Too transparent: D+

  • SQRLSY One||

    With respect to BLM and guns and #HandsUpDontShoot, please, please take a look at http://www.churchofsqrls.com/BLAM/ and see if you might pass it along to the right folks at BLM... It's not all that long, please give it a read... Good suggestions there for BLM!

  • FreeRadical||

    I agree with Leo, but I think this is one of your worst efforts to date. I think D+ is far too generous.

    You might need a break to get your creative juices flowing so you can stay true to core of the character you've created.

  • crufus||

    Police should not be able to have any weapon that is unavailable to non-police.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    OpenBorders -

    Please. You are NO kind of libertarian. Please review the Bundy ranch standoff for the importance of rights protected by article in amendment 2 of the Constitution.

  • MoreFreedom||

    It's hard to see you being a libertarian when you believe only police should have good guns like the AR-15. Which isn't as deadly as a 12 gauge shotgun at short distances IMHO, though I'd prefer an AR-15 for home defense assuming one is well trained to shoot one.

    And it's hard to take you seriously if you believe "that cops are a bunch of racists who terrorize black and brown communities for no reason." I'd bet the proportion of racist cops is low, just like the proportion of racists in the US is low. And it seems to me, the desire to bully without police management repressing bulling, is more responsible for police misconduct than racism.

  • Eric||

    It's all tribal. The police are fundamentally conservative. They come from conservative rank and file, and they seek to promote law and order...which are conservative ideals. Teachers on the other hand are populated by liberals, and they often undermine individual parental guidance in favor of secular ideas.

  • sarcasmic||

    Not in my experience. Most cops I've met were hardcore liberals. Big government, pro union, jackboot leftists.

  • Eric||

    Maybe we come from different areas. The cops I know are ALL conservative former military or wanna-be military.

  • Robert||

    I think it's exactly that: The local police culture depending on the place is either big-city old-labor "left" or old-military "right". Doesn't matter much, they stick together.

    Either gang gets the support of "conservatives" because they're an easy, no-think symbol to rally around or against. Want to sell tix to your political or semi-political "conservative" dinner? Cops. It's an easy way for people who aren't much connected to be able to identify sides w/o a lot of research. The cops do bad things, but maybe they'll do them a little less often to you, while they anger the ones you like to anger.

  • Juice||

    But really only when it comes to protecting their jobs and paychecks.

  • sarcasmic||

    They may talk a conservative talk, but in the voting booth their Democrats. They know which side their bread is buttered on.

  • sarcasmic||

    *they're*

  • Eric||

    I guarantee you it's not the left that is waving the thin blue line flags. You won't hear Toby Keith singing Fuck tha Police. The Union reps may be democrats...I'll give you that. But law and order is a fundamentally conservative value.

  • sarcasmic||

    But law and order is a fundamentally conservative value.

    That's the irony. At least in my observation. Conservatives reflexively support cops who are, in my experience, mostly big-government, pro-union, liberals.

  • Eric||

    I just don't see the liberal part. Maybe a few more liberals if you live in the urban part of a large city. But, just like the military...LEO attracts a certain kind of personality. And it's not the modern progressive type.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    So, socially conservative and fiscally liberal? What's the inverse of Libertarian?

  • Horatio Cornblower||

    Authoritarian

  • JoeBlow123||

    The military is the same way. The doofuses are so hooked up and don't even know it, they just like to complain about how they are saving the world and that they need their pensions and benefits. I even heard a fairly high ranking individual I had respect for (very in shape too) talk about trying to gain disability after retirement so he can get more cash. Shit is shameful.

  • sarcasmic||

    Liberals want government to be their mommy. They want Mommy to take care of wittle wiberal baby. That's why they've never seen a teacher or social program that they didn't love. Mommy cares.

    Conservatives want government to be their daddy. They want Daddy to protect wittle conswervative baby. That's why they've never seen a use of force that they didn't love. Daddy kicks ass.

    Libertarians are under no such delusions. We just want to be left alone and treated like adults.

  • Eric||

    So much this^

  • FreeRadical||

    Wow that was awesome. I want to share this far and wide to all my conservative and liberal friends. But I would get in too much trouble.

    I don't really have any libertarian friends...

  • MoreFreedom||

    Consider me a friend FreeRadical.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    ^This cubed.

  • evanenglish@yahoo.com||

    Beautifully stated. Left and Right delusional blind trust of government and disdain for actual freedom.

  • VinniUSMC||

    The problem is the same in both cases, unions.

  • SQRLSY One||

    What will happen when the military unionizes? I don't wanna see, don't wanna know!!!

  • General_Tso||

    So, what you're saying is 'don't ask, don't tell'?

  • SQRLSY One||

    Well, I asked, but I really don't want to see the results of the answer, if the answer is, "yes, the military will unionize".

    But yes, good word-play on the concepts of the stuff-and-stuff! I don't mean to get too stuffy about your stuff-and-stuff!

  • Eric Stratton||

    I generally agree with the overall theme of this article. I think it gets a lot wrong too and that the writing needs help as well.

    1.) The focus is not on community policing? It absolutely is the focus and you won't find it not taught at most police academies.

    2.) Military tactics are a focus? They absolutely are not. Most departments do not even have a realistic shooting qualification every 6 months, never mind training on tactics, especially military ones. Go to any 10 or 20 random police departments and you will find this a pretty common trait.

    This really all comes down to training. Most cops do not get much or any real follow on training after the initial police academy. It comes down to time, money and motivation by the departments themselves to initiate training. Many of the skills or tactics learned in the academy are perishable, especially when it comes to firearms. The common trait I have seen in "bad shoots" is poor training and lack of confidence due to that and it leads to panic or an over reaction. Some shootings are of course just bad. Bottom line, training helps officers feel confident in their ability to handle situations and things like scenarios that involve no use of force, escalation and de-escalation of force are all invaluable to help an officer on the street. The problem is that after the initial police academy there is usually no such thing as consistent or often enough any training for police officers.

  • Eric Stratton||

    I have to add that we should make it illegal for public employees to unionize, it would seem to be a conflict of interest to me. Give them civil service protections or some kind of mandated procedure so that a tyrant in a high position cannot just fire someone without cause, but something has to change.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Amen!!!

  • JFree||

    It's one reason I think we should revert back to the militia idea which was the precursor of police forces anyway.

    It provides a continual stream of new recruits. Many from those communities that are currently at the receiving end of police abuse.

    Which is the best way to both see if there is something currently screwy in the training itself - and to prevent an us v them mentality in it

    And there is probably a ton of routine police stuff that can be done by 1 professional accompanied by a couple of reservist-temp types rather 2 or more unionized permanent professionals. Which can reduce costs - and provides a better screening/hiring mechanism anyway since that decision takes place after the initial training/OJT stuff.

  • ace_m82||

    Most departments do not even have a realistic shooting qualification every 6 months

    To be fair, that's not a good measure. I was a Marine in 2004-2008 and I had a "realistic" shooting qualification twice in 4 years, and went to the range to "qualify" only twice in 4 years.

    I used to go home and tell my mom and dad that I wanted to get some leave so I could shoot more!

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Conservatives reflexively support the police because HEROES!

    Liberals/progressives reflexively support the police because UNIONS!

    Meanwhile, the taxpayers get shafted.

  • SIV||

    most conservatives instinctively side with the police

    The conservative knee-jerk support for police seemed to be wavering until Black Lives Matter was created to shove them back in line. It's worth noting conservatives are very skeptical of, to outright hostile to, most federal law enforcement.

  • Eidde||

    Certainly there's too much conservative complacency about police abuse, while at the same time there are conservatives sounding the alarm about the issue.

    And do we really have to worry that conservatives will be able to block a police accountability bill - or any bill - in the California legislature?

  • Ron||

    most if not all police accountability bills proposed in California have been by Republicans with the dems and Jerry brown shutting them down

  • MoreFreedom||

    I don't live in CA and I hardly ever visit, so yeah, I don't have to worry about myself being abused by police there.

    But I agree wholeheartedly with Greenhut. Too many conservatives support the police without making sure there are appropriate checks and balances to keep them in line. And it's worth pointing out, it's the libertarian leaning politicians who want to keep them in line.

    Greenhut also fails to chastise the Democrats, whose defense of police unions that defend atrocious police behavior including asset forfeiture leads to more atrocious behavior. As usual, it's the big government uni-party that doesn't care much about police abuse.

    BLM isn't helping their cause, considering how it quickly morphed from one concerned about police abuse, into one that just trashes police and promotes black power, socialists and violent protests instead of individual freedom.

  • gormadoc||

    The comments on that "chief disease" link are worse than our own but there's also less.

  • FreeRadical||

    I mostly feel ok about my local cops.

    But years ago, I went to one of those creepy "National Night Out" events in my neighborhood. Those events are just fascist fellating of LEOs.

    The cops had a beautiful super-car sitting there with cherries on top and painted as a local cop car. I don't remember the make, but it had to be a 200k car.

    They were beaming with pride and people were oooing and ahhing.

  • JuanQPublic||

    The conversation should now involve ways that principled Libertarians, small-L libertarians, conservative libertarians, classical liberals, anti-authoritarians, etc can put aside differences on issues like economics and public schools and begin a push for civil liberties and Constitutional protections. There are very many who aren't engaging in the highly chaotic, mob-like environment, and there is a growing vacuum outside the mob environment that should be filled. It should be a highly targeted push, forming an alliance where much overlap exists. The mainstream left, the GOP and the media institutions that perpetually validate them are increasingly and openly showing authoritarian and mob tendencies in both legislation and rhetoric, with little regard for things like due process, free speech, 2nd Amendment, etc.

  • Rossami||

    Yes, police unions need to be viewed with the same scrutiny and skepticism as teachers unions. And, yes, many (though not all by a long shot) conservatives are more deferential to police than is justified.

    The example at the bottom of the article doesn't really work all that well, though. California? There are no conservatives in power in California. The police transparency reform that was basically gutted in Sacramento can not be laid at conservative feet. Democrats have a 2-1 majority in both the CA Senate and House. They could pass any reform they want any time they want.

  • H-daddy||

    Kudos to Steven Greenhut for a thoughtful and well-reasoned article. Can we extend this sort of argument to firefighters?

  • sarcasmic||

    To a certain degree, yes. Full time firefighters don't fight many fires. Though they do respond whenever an ambulance is called. Why? To justify their full time status and pay. For the most part they're not needed. Volunteer fire departments are sufficient in most places. Mostly they're status symbols for local governments, and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

  • ||

    Full time firefighters don't fight many fires. Though they do respond whenever an ambulance is called. Why? To justify their full time status and pay. For the most part they're not needed. Volunteer fire departments are sufficient in most places.

    This is not really true in many ways. The cost of a private fire department would be roughly equivalent and any downward pressure in costs would be offset by more onerous building codes, infrastructure, and insurance costs.

    I can agree that we have rising infrastructure and insurance requirements even with FDs (and shouldn't) and would agree that a Fire Marshal's policing powers are, or can be, absurd. But the firefighters and paramedics in lots of places do have a dangerous and demanding job that many of us would demand similar pay to do.

    At least, around Chicagoland, lots of Departments are only loosely affiliated with any local government and any given fire, especially in the unincorporated sections of villages where there are no hydrants, can require several trucks from several departments (we've had two in the last 3 weeks). The logistics of organizing part-time volunteers in such a fashion would be horrible.

  • Variant||

    I'm all for policing the police, but what I do reject is how over-stated the issue is as a contributing factors to societal woes. For anyone actually interested in reducing poverty and murder, it's a distraction.

  • retiredfire||

    Good article, except for the fact that this guy doesn't know what he is talking about.
    I'll agree with the idea that asset forfeiture is bad, but blame the courts for allowing it to happen.
    The rest of it shows a deep misunderstanding of how government works.
    Just to correct one glaring example: their pensions are no more "covered by the taxpayers" than is their salary.
    Pensions get contributions from the employer and the employee, directly deducted from their paycheck - as part of active-duty compensation. These are supplemented by investment returns.
    Once a public employee retires, no more taxpayer money goes into the system for that employee. All those "underfunded" pension systems, that aren't as "underfunded" as you have been made to believe, are because the politicians have failed to live up to their end of the bargain and make the full employers' contribution.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Go to Huffingtonpost and push this shit. It is not wanted here.

  • MikeP2||

    "pensions are no more "covered by the taxpayers""

    It varies state-to-state, but in many public employee pension plans are backstopped by the government. So if the pension for firefighters is mis-managed and overpromised...and the 'plan' runs out of money to pay out, then guess who is on the hook to keep those pensions paid? yeh...taxpayers.

    It's sad that you understand so little of that.

  • MoreFreedom||

    You seem to miss the fact, that all police compensation (excluding that coming from asset forfeiture) comes from taxpayers, even when some of that is directed by the police officer into their retirement account. Also, you seem to miss how accounting works for many government pensions. Promises have been made for generous pensions, but they are seldom fully funded, and the government employees' expectations are that future taxpayers will make up the difference. As you've stated. But where and when do you think they will be funded since they haven't been fully funded? You are sticking your head in the sand to claim pensions aren't covered by taxpayers.

    I agree with JoeBlow, go to puffington for such squishy thinking posts, or start thinking clearly.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Chief's Disease... fucking shameful. Same kind of "get mine" attitude permeates the military like a rank cloud at the middle levels of leadership. Most of the higher ups (E-8 and above, 0-5 and above) I have encountered are in it for the sense of purpose, but the trash heap below them are the worst lot of time pushers imaginable. Such an unimaginative lot too, they all repeat each others tired shit like it is something profound. The lower ranks see this and it is so fucking off putting, pushes the capable ones out of the service.

    This is not universally true but pretty close.

  • MikeP2||

    "Conservatives Need to Put Aside Kneejerk Police Support"

    The premise implied by the title is pathetic. There is no monolithic 'conservative' support for the police. What torques conservatives up about police-issues, is the complete inability to have a rational conversation about race and the demographics of the most crime-ridden areas of deep blue urban centers.

    When race-baiting BLM stages a protest about the police, conservatives don't have a "kneejerk police support" reactions, but rather have a "kneejerk stop calling all of us racists and lets figure out the facts first and deal with the issue directly". Liberals, Conservatives, and Libertarians all saw what happened in Ferguson. Anyone who paid attention after the initial uproar saw that from almost all witness testimony, the cop probably didn't do anything wrong. Wanting real reform and justice when justice is warranted, is not a kneejerk pro-cop reaction.

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