Police Brutality - Are Unions to Blame?


Unions are known for thuggery.  Could this explain incidents of police brutality?

Some are pointing to the police reforms in Camden, New Jersey as an example of how Police reform could result not only in lower crime rates, but better community relations and fewer complaints.  Camden had its share of complaints about the police, and the crime and murder rates were on the rise.   So they decided to take the radical step of abolishing the police department and starting over - with a new department with the old union contract abolished.

(A similar movement is taking place in Glynn County, Georgia.   With some officers under indictment and after several controversial shootings, people are talking about abolishing the current police force and simply starting over - and this was before the current shooting by a former officer in Satilla Shores).

Most of the officers were re-hired and in reality, not a lot has changed, other than perhaps the city now has control over its own police department, instead of the unions running things.   Unions, like any other organization, quickly revert to self-preservation mode.   When you run an organization, you want to make sure the income goes up, expenses are kept down, and salaries for people like yourself are increased.   It might be evil, but it is human nature.  Whether it is a Police or Teacher's union, or a non-profit dedicated to rescuing pets, the net effect is the same - no organization intentionally sets out to put itself out of business - or rarely is that the case.

Accumulating power is the name of the game.   We can decry these groups for trying to do this, but it is an organic force of nature.  The solution is to keep that power in check.  But sadly, many local governments pander to government unions, thinking that this small minority of voters represents the majority view of the people.  And for a while, they can get away with this, as the government unions, flush with cash from fat union contracts, pay for political campaigns to persuade the citizens to vote for pro-union representatives, on the city council, mayor's office, or the State government.   It is a perfect feedback loop.  It is only when the citizens get the tax bill or are beaten down by the Police that maybe they realize that they made a mistake.

You can fool some of the people some of the time.... which is a cautionary tale for those running for office financed entirely by PACs and relying on attack ads to persuade voters.  Eventually - and it does take time - people figure it out.   You can't fool all the people all of the time.

Sadly, it has often been liberal politics that has kept these corrupt unions in power.  People vote for candidates based on "social issues" and many of these well-meaning (but often misinformed) liberals think that government employees are woefully underpaid and overworked and need a raise.   As a result, you end up with elementary school teachers making $100,000 a year for six-months of work, as in the case in New York, or Firefighters making $400,000 a year, as in LA.   Or in some instances, the unions end up bankrupting a town or city, such as in Bell, California or San Bernardino, California, walking away from the wreckage with outlandish pensions.

Too late, people realize they have been snookered.   And it isn't just liberals who get hoodwinked this way.  The police and firemen unions use patriotism to hook the right-wing voters as well.   Since 9/11 the "first responders" have been beatified as some sort of front-line shock troops in the fight against terrorism.   Recent events have sort of reinforced this message.   Government unions don't need to pander to the liberal vote anymore, they can tap into the law-and-order vote as well.   Maybe the teacher's unions should take a page from this playbook and slap around a few high school students - it would get out the vote from the Fox News viewers.

But why would unionism lead to police brutality?  At first, the two seem unrelated.  After all, unions are benevolent organizations merely helping those poor government employees get the pay they deserve, right?  Well, maybe unions started out that way - although the history of unionism seems to say otherwise.   Intimidation and violence was used since the early days - and even today - to "persuade" people to join unions and support current union leadership, and to strong-arm employers to cough up money - some of which might actually be paid to the union members!

And I know this as during my brief tenure with the Teamsters, I was intimidated and threatened by a shop steward, who was doing his best to prop up the corrupt leadership of the union - a union that was later taken over by the government as it was so corrupt.  The union lost sight of its mission - to protect the workers - and went into self-preservation mode ages ago.  The two-tier contract we had was a tacit admission that they just wanted more union dues, and to heck with the workers (still, I was glad to have the job, for the time-being).

I think the same effect can happen with police unions.  A cop is accused of roughing up a suspect.  It happens - a few bad apples is all it takes to paint an entire police force in a bad light.  I have friends on multiple police forces, from Virginia to Georgia, and they are decent, hard-working people who do want to do the right thing.  They are first to admit that one or two of their comrades have other ideas - and that some often "get off" on the adrenaline rush of an arrest.   Police powers are awesome powers and pretty absolute.   All I can say is what my CrimLaw professor advised us - do what they say, even if it seems unreasonable.  "Tell it to the Judge" as they used to say back in the day - you can't "negotiate" your arrest.

When you get a bad apple, whether it is on the assembly line at GM, or in the police force, the union will make it hard to get rid of them.   We had a guy at GM punch a foreman in the face.   He was fired the same day.  At contract time, the union demanded he be re-hired with back pay (plus interest) and management, fearing yet another crippling strike, capitulated.   The foreman quit the same day.  The inmates were running the asylum.  Management kind of gave up at that point.

It was only when an officer blatenly murdered a suspect in Minneapolis, that the mayor there dared to defy the lawyers and the unions by firing the officer outright.  None of this "paid leave while we investigate" and then have some sort of tribunal, where the union would insist that the officer be reinstated and - just like at GM - they would capitulate to avoid labor unrest.

The message is then made clear to the rest of the department.  You can do whatever the heck you want to do, the union has your back and the city will back down.  The same thing happened at GM. Re-hiring the guy who punched the foreman eventually lead to that factory being closed and GM going bankrupt.   Not that incident per se, but a series of incidents like it.   When people realize the adults have left the room and there are no rules, they will do as they please, until the whole structure simply collapses.

These "antifart" kids who are pining for "anarchy" should just join a unionized police force - they already have all the anarchy you can stand.

The Camden example illustrates what happens when a city takes back control of its police.   The Police Chief may not like it, but the Police exist to serve us and not vice-versa.   We grant them these awesome powers, to police us, to arrest us, to tell us what to do, and in exchange, we expect them to use these powers responsibly.   It is one of the hardest jobs in the world.   It's like being told to guard the cookie jar, but not to eat any.  The temptation to dip in, is strong, and occasionally, someone will eat a cookie - and there has to be consequences for that.

People want rules - rules that make sense and are enforced evenhandedly.   Just as children crave boundaries, we all want to be kicked in the ass on occasion and called into account.  And yes, even the people who police us, want to be policed.  The "bad apple" cop is hated most by the decent cops on the force, because a good cop is painted with the same broad brush.

Unions suck.  Unionism sucks.  Sadly, the people who support unionism on the left usually never were in one, such as my communist brother.   He liked to talk a lot about the "rights of the workers" based on theories he learned in college.  My perspective was shaped by what happened on the shop floor, and how unions and unionism destroyed one factory after another, one industry after another, until all those factories relocated overseas (or down South) where unions didn't run the shop, management actually did - and people thrived.

The Camden model might be a lesson for the rest of the country.   Too bad they didn't take it to the next level and abolish the police union entirely!