Changing the union contracts under which the police operate is key to a better force. Ending the drug war, eliminating qualified immunity, and instituting rigorous training will do much to resolve the crisis between the police and the policed. But these tactics will ultimately be unsuccessful unless profound changes are made in police labor contracts, which are often lopsidedly pro-police. This is manifest in police abuse of the citizenry. As nights of violence drag on in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, this topic assumes great importance.
Reinstated With Back Pay
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said he fired Sgt. Brian Miller for “neglect of duty” in the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, in 2018. Miller lost his job after it was discovered that he hid outside in his car as the gunman opened fire on students and staff. In May 2020, however, the headlines read: “Fired Parkland deputy to be reinstated with back pay.” How could this be? The union contract. According to the Miami Herald:
“An arbitration ruling found ‘BSO [Broward Sheriff Office] violated Sgt. Brian Miller’s constitutional due process rights and improperly terminated him,’ the union said.”
Pick your favorite search engine, type and click “police forced to rehire,” and marvel at the staggering number of cases reported. I chose Brian Miller, a coward at the Parkland massacre, because there are no racial overtones involved. Everyone knows that when you’re a cop who has a badge, a gun, and an annual salary of $138,410.25, your job is to stop the bad guy from murdering the students at the school you are assigned to protect. And the arbitrator who decided Miller’s case likely agrees with that assessment, too.
Unionization = More Killings!
The arbitrator didn’t rule that Miller was a good cop or that his firing was unjustified, just that his due process rights were violated. After that ruling, the labor contract the county agreed to meant the reinstatement was non-negotiable. There’s early social science to suggest the more unionized a police department is, the greater the likelihood one of its members will kill an unarmed person. That’s a staggering conclusion put forth by economic historian and college professor Rob Gillezeau, who has tweeted many points covered in his data analysis. He said that after the initiation of unions at a department:
“We find a substantial increase in police killings of civilians over the medium to long run (likely after unions are established) with an additional 0.026 to 0.029 civilians killed in a county each year of whom the overwhelming majority are non-white.”
So the answer to the police problem is a political one: When sufficient pressure is applied to those who sign the contracts, we will see change. One data point I haven’t seen Gillezeau tweet about yet is the political makeup of the jurisdictions he studied. If our preconceived notions about party competition for leadership are correct, we should expect to see the worst records correlate with the least competitive political races. Minneapolis hasn’t had a Republican mayor for 45 years. The last one for Philly was 1948.
Police union contracts should be easily accessible to the public and a topic discussed by candidates and voters. The site checkthepolice.org posts many contracts and categorizes issues with them. Among the problems are disqualifying complaints, limiting oversight and discipline, erasing misconduct records, and requiring the city to pay for misconduct. Given the awesome powers police have in our society, it’s scandalous that these contracts are not scrutinized. One positive result from George Floyd’s death could be a move away from the one-sided “bargain” the people are required to make with public-sector police unions.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.