Thursday, June 25, 2020

OCPA column: Police chiefs warn of dangers of government unions

Police chiefs warn of dangers of government unions
By Jonathan Small

It’s long been understood that unions make government workers unresponsive to public needs. This applies to police as much as any other worker. A University of Chicago study found that between 1996 and 2015, newly unionized law enforcement agencies saw a 27 percent increase in misconduct complaints.

People in Camden, New Jersey, took actions to promote accountability and address police union problems. In 2012, Camden, New Jersey, dissolved its police department and replaced it with an entirely new one.

That action was done to bust the police union and improve public safety in the process. It worked. The new, non-unionized police force was less expensive, which allowed the town to hire more officers, which in turn drove down violent crime.

Busting the union also reduced misconduct. The prior unionized police force was so bad the City of Camden had to pay $3.5 million in damages to 88 people whose convictions were overturned. Five Camden officers were charged with crimes that included evidence planting, fabrication of reports and evidence, and perjury.

Notably, those calling for union reform include police chiefs.

“There is nothing more debilitating to a chief from an employment matter perspective than when you have grounds to terminate an officer for misconduct and you’re dealing with a third-party mechanism that allows for that employee not only to be back in your department, but to be patrolling your communities,” said Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.

Daniel Oates, a former police chief in several cities, recently wrote that chiefs “know there cannot be true reform unless Americans elect politicians willing to take on obstructionist labor leaders.” Oates pointed out most chiefs cannot immediately fire officers caught abusing their power. And, when such officers are fired, the subsequent appeals process “is staggeringly favorable to bad cops.”

To improve police relations with the communities they serve, state and local officials must address the problems created by government unions. But that’s not all. Another area requiring attention is the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which protects police from a wide range of lawsuits. While officers should be protected from lawsuits for the legal actions taken in the course of their work, critics argue “qualified immunity” has been stretched to include protection for illegal abuses of power.

Notably, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is among those who have criticized qualified immunity, writing that it is “no longer grounded” in common low and that there “may be no justification for a one-size-fits-all, subjective immunity based on good faith.”

If we really want to prevent a reoccurrence of Floyd’s death, we must pursue substantive reforms, not symbolism—and that requires eliminating government unions.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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