Police Unions and Accountability


Clint Rand

          After the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, police unions have been dragged into the public spotlight and what has been exposed is not a pretty sight. As people look for obstacles standing in the way of police reform they’re realizing it is unions and the politicians who have been bought for years by union contributions.  

          Radical Policing is a pro police forum but we do not accept that that requires us to ignore or condone that which is blatantly wrong with individuals or the system. To the contrary, we believe that recent events have exposed much that is wrong with law enforcement and other components of the criminal justice system that need careful examination and, in many cases, improvement or elimination. This article explores one such topic.

Excerpts from this article were originally published by the Center for Public Integrity.

          Critics of police unions point out that union contracts usually include language to hide complaints against police officers, defend the jobs of officers accused of using abusive tactics, contain arbitration clauses that force police departments to rehire officers who have been fired and require the expungement of disciplinary records after a period of time.

          The union agreement in Minneapolis  mandates a 48 hour waiting period before any officer accused of abusive tactics can be interviewed, which gives the officer time to concoct an alibi. Unions have successfully lobbied to grant police officers far more security than the average worker.

          According to Sam Mitrani, a labor historian at the College of DuPage in Illinois, “These are armed, trained people who are totally not accountable to the community they are policing.”

          The American Federation of Labor began recruiting police in 1919 and by the 1950s and 60s police unions were common. The “National Directory of Law Enforcement Administrators” lists 128 police associations and organizations.

          The Civil Rights Movement with images of black marchers and protesters being confronted by police wielding clubs caused the labor movement to lean more favorably toward the Civil Rights Movement. Today the labor movement avoids disagreements with police unions. Police unions are securely entrenched as labor leaders are reluctant to tackle police unions as many of them represent law enforcement officers through their local affiliates. The AFL-CIO represents one of the largest police unions, the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) with more than 15,000 members. The IUPA claims to help families of fallen officers but according to the Center for Public Integrity most of the money winds up with telemarketers paid to solicit donors.

          The solution for the problem lies with those responsible for the problem in the first place; the town, city, state and federal lawmakers who have developed an incredible ability to deny blame and deflect responsibility. It would be an easier task if the efforts to defund and abolish the police were focused on the actual cause of the problems.  

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