MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Police Unions Defend Bad Cops Who Do Awful Things. Why Won't They Defend Broward County Deputy?

School resource officer Scot Peterson didn’t pay his dues. To unions, that’s what matters.

JONATHAN DRAKE/REUTERS/NewscomJONATHAN DRAKE/REUTERS/NewscomPolice unions routinely defend bad cops who do awful things.

When Hector Jimenez, an Oakland cop, shot and killed an unarmed man in 2007, he got his job back. Seven months later, after he killed another man by shooting him three times in the back, he got his job back a second time. In both cases, the local police union intervened in Jimenez' favor.

After 13 Cleveland cops fired 137 rounds of ammo into a car in 2012, killing two people, at the end of a car chase, all but one ended up staying on the job with help from the union. The same was true for Philadelphia police officer Cyrus Mann, who was fired that same year after shooting three people within three years (he killed one of his victims, an unarmed man, by shooting him in the back) and later reinstated on the force after a union-backed arbitration process.

Last year, when cops in Salt Lake City violently arrested a nurse for refusing to draw blood from a hospital patient without a warrant, the local police union stepped in to defend the officers' actions and attack those who criticized them.

In those cases, and plenty of others, police unions have defended cops who engaged in clear-cut abuses of the public trust placed in them. Whether it's a question of excessive force, unconstitutional searches, or the killing of innocent civilians, police unions routinely stand up for officers who have committed acts with tragic consequences. Union contracts "often provide a shield of protection for officers accused of misdeeds," Reuters concluded in a 2017 investigative report.

But the head of the union that represents law enforcement in Broward County, Florida, says his union won't be stepping up to help disgraced deputy Scot Peterson, who resigned amid the fallout from the Feb. 14 school shooting.

Why not? It's not because the union is upset with Peterson's conduct or because it thinks he has disgraced the courageous image of law enforcement. No, it's really just about the money.

"From a legal standpoint, we say he was not a 'dues-paying member,'" Jeff Bell, president of the Broward County Sheriff's Deputies Association told Reason.

Peterson was on duty as the school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when the shooting occurred, but security camera footage shows the deputy remained outside the school while 17 students and teachers were killed. Peterson's conduct has been widely criticized (though he now says he wrongly believed the shots were coming from outside the school building).

"If he was a dues-paying member, I would certainly have a problem with how we are trying him in the public and not giving him his due process," Bell says. "But because he's not a dues-paying member and I don't have to represent him? Whatever happens, happens."

Peterson is covered by the collective bargaining agreements signed by Bell's union, but public sector employees have the right under Florida law to refuse to financially support their union. That doesn't really free employees from the union, as Travis Keels, author of a 2015 study on Florida's public sector union laws. "Even in a right-to-work state such as Florida, many public employees are faced with an unavoidable quandary: Join a union and pay dues, or choose not to join the union and have no voice in the union that will still be representing you regardless of your individual opinion."

In other words, Peterson won't get much help from the union he was nominally part of, but he was not free to find a different bargaining unit that might have served him better.

When the Broward County Sheriff's Office (BCSO) decided to suspend Peterson last week, Bell was asked to call the deputy to give him the bad news. Bell said that was the first time he's interacted with Peterson. The phone call was a difficult one, and Peterson was upset by the way he was being treated by his employer after 32 years of service. Peterson resigned and retired shortly after being suspended. He stands to get a pension of at least $52,000 and will have half of his health insurance premiums covered by the BCSO for the rest of his life.

But Peterson could end up facing an investigation from the BCSO and could end up in civil court due to his inaction at the high school last week.

Whatever happens, Bell says, won't be a union matter.

"If the sheriff's office decides not to, say for example, they decide you know what, we're not going to give you your payouts and we're not going to give you your insurance or whatever, I'm still not doing anything for him," Bell told Reason. "So, he doesn't have the right to file a grievance–well, he can do it as an individual, but when he gets to the level of arbitration, we're not covering that. If he has any lawsuits, we're not covering that. Administrative hearings or civil hearings, we're not covering that."

Only "dues-paying members," get that sort of protection, Bell says.

That demonstrates, in pretty stark terms, the standard that police unions use to measure good cops.

It's certainly possible that Bell's union is making the right decision by refusing to support Peterson—but if that's the case, then what do we make of the countless examples where police unions have gone to bat for officers who have hurt and killed innocent civilians? If this is the right decision, then it's been made for the wrong reasons.

And if paying union dues is the difference between a good cop and a bad cop, then it's no surprise that politically powerful police unions have produced the policy outcomes that they have.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "If he was a dues-paying member, I would certainly have a problem with how we are trying him in the public and not giving him his due process," Bell says. "But because he's not a dues-paying member and I don't have to represent him? Whatever happens, happens."

    This cannot be a real quote.

  • sarcasmic||

    Why? Because it's honest?

  • Tamfang||

    Well, yeah.

  • Chasman1965||

    If I don't join AAA, I don't expect them to tow my car for free. If I didn't join the union, I wouldn't expect them to defend me. I don't have any problem with the union doing that. He can hire his own lawyer. I'm not particularly pro or anti-union, but I don't understand why this is controversial in the least.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    That demonstrates, in pretty stark terms, the standard that police unions use to measure good cops.

    It also shows that the union isn't worried about punishment precedents being set.

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    I don't think that standard exists.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Come to think of it, dead and fired First Responders™ incur no expensive legal fees as a drag on their goonion brothers.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    The union is not articulating a standard for measuring good cops. The union is simply drawing a line at where its duty to represent a cop ends. If Peterson did not pay union dues then he is not a member in good standing (or at all) and all Bell is saying that the union that could have defended him were he a dues-paying member does not have to do so and will not do so. I'm sorry. I fail to see the issue here.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    This is why we can't have free riders!

  • What's that smell?||

    I belonged to a public sector union, was forced to. You could opt-out and become a non-voting, non-represented member buuttt...you still had to pay 85% of your dues, a "collective bargaining fee" Nice little racket there,

  • Rhywun||

    And that percentage is completely pulled out of their ass. The real number is much lower.

  • Eidde||

    Police union recruiter: "If (God forbid) you get in trouble for shooting the wrong person or failing to shoot the right person, then we've got your back. Of course, we'll have to wet our beaks first. You wouldn't want to be hung out to dry and suffer like a civilian, would you?"

  • Eidde||

    Police union recruiter: "If (God forbid) you get in trouble for shooting the wrong person or failing to shoot the right person, then we've got your back. Of course, we'll have to wet our beaks first. You wouldn't want to be hung out to dry and suffer like a civilian, would you?"

  • sarcasmic||

    Nothing scares a police officer more than the threat of being treated the way that they treat people every day.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    ^This.

  • Rhywun||

    Yeah, this does put a damper on my enthusiasm for the upcoming Janus decision. At least most other unions don't include "get out of jail free" cards in their services.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    If you don't pay an organization for their benefits, why should they lift a finger to help you out? Sorry, dude who ran away while kids were getting shot, you're fucked.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    "If he was a dues-paying member, I would certainly have a problem with how we are trying him in the public and not giving him his due process," Bell says. "But because he's not a dues-paying member and I don't have to represent him? Whatever happens, happens."

    Is there anyone even tangentially involved with the Broward County PD who isn't a festering asshole?

  • MJBinAL||

    No.

  • sarcasmic||

    Is there anyone even tangentially involved with the Broward County PD law enforcement who isn't a festering asshole?

    ftfy, and no

  • Griffin3||

    My college best friend's brother was a member of Broward County PD for a while. And, answer still is "NO".

  • DJF||

    Can a civilian pay dues and then get police protection?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    I think that's called the Mafia.

  • Aloysious||

    No no no. That's completely different.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Oh that is funny!

    I'd never want them to have any more money than they already have, but if one person were to sign up as a test case, it would be hilarious.

  • FlameCCT||

    Actually all police officers are civilians too.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Actually the word "civilian" has many meanings, one of which is to mean "people outside our group", or "laymen". Most people recognize that, quite a lot actively use it, and only pedants like you say otherwise.

  • gaoxiaen||

    So say most 1%er bike clubs.

  • operagost||

    Not while they full auto weapons, explosives, body armor, and tanks.

  • Old Mexican - Mostly Harmless||

    Peterson's conduct has been widely criticized[,] though he now says he wrongly believed the shots were coming from outside the school building[.]


    It's a plausible explanation. Not that it is convincing, because it would need corroborating evidence, but it's not unreasonable. Sound does bounce off buildings and hard things, making it more difficult for a person to quickly assess a direction.

    The problem lies with the reat of the situation: there were at least three more deputies who had arrived and could have coordinated their efforts to keep someone watching the outside while two could get inside, but I do have to concede that lack of knowledge of the situation makes any decision a difficult one. The moral of the story is: don't EVER count on police for immediate action or help. Police officers are individual humans with limitations just like everyone else, and who can't train for every possible or unthinkable scenario. Most of the time, they're there to put drubks in jail and make police reports.

  • sarcasmic||

    As I've said before, this cop was put in an impossible situation. The first and foremost thing that is ingrained into cops is officer safety (number two is total compliance, as in obey or die). All of his training told him to not confront the shooter. They are not allowed to put themselves in danger, because officer safety is number one. That is one of the few things that can get a cop fired.

  • Rhywun||

    Agreed, but part of being a non-dues-paying cop is taking the fall.

  • BYODB||

    Mostly this. I don't often agree with Old Mexican, but in this I think he's correct. It's unreasonable to expect a school safety officer to have perfect awareness of an unexpected situation. I know the government likes to pretend that they'll keep you safe, but we all repeatedly point out how impossible that is.

    Sure, supposedly they're all superhero's but in reality they're just a bunch of low-IQ guys who may or may not be corrupt.

    This guy made the wrong call in a heated situation, but he's a human. What's happening now is that people are demanding scalps, and this guy was nearby when a scalp was demanded.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Good enough for government work.

  • SimonD||

    What's happening now is that people are demanding scalps, and this guy was nearby when a scalp was demanded.

    People are demanding scalps, this guy was nearby, AND the people who's scalps actually deserve to be taken are connected enough to be basically untouchable for something as inconsequential as seventeen dead kids.

    (a little bit sarcastic, but sadly a little bit true)

  • FlameCCT||

    Apparently you are not familiar with Active Shooter training which almost all police across the country have implemented. I would note that this cop was an over 25 year veteran of Broward County.

  • christwasnotarepublican2||

    If you want to place your safety above that of others, you should not become a police officer in the first place, but then rational people know that.

  • operagost||

    If number one is to watch out for number one, well, I could do that. Don't need any training. Just pay me to stand around until the shooting stops.

  • markm23||

    So you are saying that the department trained him to be a coward. That should be reason to fire everyone involved in setting department policies, with a notation in their jacket that they are unfit to be a Walmart security guard, let alone a sworn officer.

    And "I thought the shots were coming from outside the building" would only be an excuse if he was looking for the shooter outside the building. You can't do that while cowering in one spot.

  • croaker||

    Do I feel sorry for the Coward of Broward County?

    Fuck no.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    He's a sacrificial lamb, so police business as usual can continue.

  • MiloMinderbinder||

    Doesn't this prove that the concerns about defendants claims about free-riders in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 is misplaced?

    Here the public union offers a clear "benefit" to its members. Some will chose to pay the dues and receive the benefit and others will prefer to keep their money and do without.

  • ||

    "If he was a dues-paying member, I would certainly have a problem with how we are trying him in the public and not giving him his due process," Bell says.

    Fuck off you disgusting human paraquat. The courts owe him due process; the "public" is free to call this guy a coward and comment on his disgraceful behavior.

    "But because he's not a dues-paying member and I don't have to represent him? Whatever happens, happens."

    What a mensch.

  • Chasman1965||

    The courts do owe him due process. The union doesn't have to provide him a lawyer for him to get that due process. It's not their responsibility, as he chose not to pay for union services.

  • Ride 'Em||

    I think the lesson to be learned is never hire or associate with a person named Scott Peterson.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Or Drew Peterson. Probably best to avoid Petersons altogether.

  • DajjaI||

    Cops will still rally around him. Why? Because he was a bully who instigated little Nikky to explode, and they were all complicit in the bullying and he will use that against them to get what he wants. Just you watch.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Do you have a link for this bully story?

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    But tony told me that unions protect everyone from the fascists.

  • gormadoc||

    Why is this news? It's not even wrong for the union to act this way, since that's explicitly how unions work. I'm sure that if I wasn't paying a lawyer that they wouldn't really want to defend me check (nor would they feel obligated), so why should we get excited about a union acting the same way?

  • gormadoc||

    "Check" shouldn't be there, woops.

  • Kim Jong Putin||

    Exactly my thoughts.

  • Rat on a train||

    If it is like other opt-out jurisdiction, he can only opt out of paying for electioneering and lobbying. He still has to pay for collective bargaining. If he is, he should get support for work-related matters. If he is paying and not getting support, then the union is lying about what the money he is forced to pay goes to.

  • gormadoc||

    From the text in the article, it doesn't sound like he had to pay anything, even though he was still represented in the collective bargaining.

  • FlameCCT||

    IIUC FL does not require "fair share" fees for those who opt-out of the union. Similar to NM and other Right to Work States.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I agree. This tells us everything we need to know about public sector unions.

  • TLBD||

    So basically this guy is saying that if you don't pay your dues: We will not represent you AND we will throw you under the bus.

    I'm fine with the first, not the second. The treatment of Peterson is obviously meant as a lesson on crossing the union. Sick.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Or set a new precedent for police accountability. I'd bet that the union will eventually go to bat for him.

  • Longtobefree||

    No way. What do you think union means?
    The hero of Broward county is not union. End of discussion.

  • NoVaNick||

    I have always been baffled as to why police, firefighters, and EMTs are allowed to unionize in the first place. Yes, they have dangerous jobs, but its not like they are forced to do that, and the selection process is very rigorous (supposedly-unless your dad/uncle/grandfather was a cop). Many then retire in their early 40s with a full pension. So it seems that these cop unions only encourage corruption at the expense of public safety.

  • ClassicLiberal||

    Exactly my thoughts!

  • Kim Jong Putin||

    I think you're confused. You and I may not like the deal our govts strike with these employees but trying to prevent an individual from negotiating the terms of their employment is wrong and unconstitutional

  • NoVaNick||

    If you're not in a union, it does NOT mean you don't have the right to negotiate the terms of your employment as an individual-its called a contract...

  • NoVaNick||

    For a while, I was getting calls from the FOP asking for donations for slain officers' families- ya know, so it would be hard for me to tell them I'm not interested. The families end up collecting their pensions anyway. If they call again, I will tell them to go fuck themselves.

  • LarryA||

    I don't care how good a national organization's cause or pitch is, everything I give goes to local organizations where I know the folks involved and the projects they're spending on.

    The only exception is the NRA Foundation, where I help run the local Friends of NRA event and sit on the grant committee.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Tell him to send you a bumper sticker and a courtesy card.. Might be worth it. My Teamster bumper sticker saved me from a couple of tickets.

  • tlapp||

    The unions are justifying their fee. If you are incompetent you may pay for protection.

  • FlameCCT||

    "That demonstrates, in pretty stark terms, the standard that police unions use to measure good cops."

    Slight correction: That demonstrates, in pretty stark terms, the standard that unions use to measure good .

    I've seen the same occur with other unions including teachers, bus drivers (public), etc. that endangered their customers/clients.

  • KWlib||

    In a cop's mind, a murdering cop is just another cop who deserves to be defended.

    But a coward cop is just plain coward.

    Of course they extended the second thought to the cop who refuses to murder an innocent person. So there is that. :(

  • Curmudgeon49||

    Commenters here understand neither the context of the statement nor the statement itself.
    Unions do not make up the rules about whether those covered by a collective agreement are required to pay dues, governments do. Unions do not make up the rules on whom they must represent, governments do.

    The statement "If he was a dues-paying member, ..." means he is not a member. If he is not a member, the union has no obligation to defend him, even though he receives all other benefits derived under the collective bargaining agreement. The dues collected from the members are used to defend the interests of members.

    Those critical of the statement need to think in different terms. Imagine your neighbor has no liability insurance and a delivery person sues the neighbor for an injury received on his property. If your neighbor comes to you and every other neighbor on the street and asks that all contribute to his legal costs to defend himself, are you (plural) going to pay for it?

  • retiredfire||

    You are right, but the idiots, here, go with the presumption that unREASON begins with: that union representation is some kind of talisman that gets cops off from disciplinary proceedings.
    All a union can do is provide the resources for legal representation - nothing more.
    The adjudicating body, whether a police commission or arbitrator, or court doesn't give a rat's ass about whether the individual being evaluated is a union member and that union has zero ability to put any pressure on, to see that their member is found to be without fault.
    The laws are not altered because of a union providing representation.
    That's the moronic thinking that you get from unREASON, and the vast majority of "libertarians".

  • gaoxiaen||

    I never really noticed the USW dues deducted from my paycheck because the pay was so good. Until the steel mill shut down.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Look at the bright side. Seneca SC is planning statues in honor of Solicitor Chrissy Adams and Trooper Tiller to replace those horrible, racist nullification and low-tariff statues of Jeff Davis. I'm pretty sure they could be persuaded to put up a Hector Jimenez statue as a warning to any West Coast pothead or colored troublemakers to stay out of Dixie!

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    From a legal standpoint, we say he was not a 'dues-paying member,'" Jeff Bell, president of the Broward County Sheriff's Deputies Association told Reason.

    he didn't pay his dues to an organization that was designed to protect him. So, yeah, fuck his scab ass.

  • mtrueman||

    "Police unions routinely defend bad cops who do awful things."

    That's what a union is supposed to do. An organization defending its members. What's wrong with that?

  • markm23||

    They not only defend their members in investigations, in their contract negotiations they demand privileges for cops being investigated that go far beyond what anyone else has.

  • mtrueman||

    That's even worse than defending members!

  • shawn_dude||

    Oh Noes!

    Next thing you'll tell me is that the city demands things too and then they work out their differences and come up with a contract they can both live with!

    The horrors.

  • Longtobefree||

    It is not the union's fault that the government was/is too lazy to set up a flag in the payroll system to not pay non-union cops differently than union cops. Back in the day, mandatory dues made processing payroll more consistent for the clerks. With the advent of computerized payrolls, it is trivial to allow non-union members in any company to negotiate independent wages and benefits. So there is no valid reason for him to be covered by the collective bargain agreement other than government preference.
    No union dues, no union benefits. Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

  • mtrueman||

    "it is trivial to allow non-union members in any company to negotiate independent wages and benefits."

    You still have to pay those negotiators. It could be expensive and time-consuming compared to one contract for all.

  • shawn_dude||

    I considered arguing this and then realized that having no unions and a single pay scale would be just as easy.

    Of course, not allowing unions does have free association issues, but that's another argument for another day.

  • Vince Pescado||

    While I'm not a huge fan of public sector unions, and Mr. Bell is a exceptionally frank, I find I don't really have a problem with the unions position. The man is given the choice to pay dues (a good thing). Part of what the dues pay for is essentially insurance. Insurance that provides legal representation as well as some PR assistance should something like this happen.

    I don't think it is problematic that the union does this. We expect a lawyer to provide a vigorous defense of someone who has done something heinous. The PR aspect does not seem to be an unreasonable expansion of that. Indeed, I think it is a mistake to expect the union to speak and act in an unbiased way.

    In any case, since the officer decided that he did not wish to pay dues (or perhaps pay reduced dues as some folks here have suggested), he has essentially made the choice to opt-out of the insurance. And if he does that, he shouldn't expect the union to provide the same level of service that it would to someone who does pay.

    I do think, that the union speaking out like this has more to do with being able to provide a cautionary tale for those who are considering opting out of membership than anything else.

  • shawn_dude||

    You're trying to tar the voluntary membership organization for not offering it's membership benefits to a non-member. You wrap that up with outrage by describing how "evil" the unions are for supporting members but in the end, this all boils down to: he wasn't a member in a state where that is voluntary so the union has no responsibility to offer him the benefits he opted out of.

    While I am sympathetic to the claims that unions, especially public sector unions, ought to be voluntary, I think that relationship goes both ways. The unions ought to find benefits to provide that entice members to join rather than use force of law. And here we have one such benefit. Membership has its benefits, right?

    Trying to build a tenuous tie between a non-union member and the union by saying the union "nominally" represents them during contract negotiations is just silly.

  • swampwiz||

    I don't see what the problem is. The union works for the folks who have forked over the dues, not for others.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online