# How Police Unions Fight Reform ![rw-book-cover](https://readwise-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/static/images/article4.6bc1851654a0.png) ## Metadata - Author: [[William Finnegan]] - Full Title: How Police Unions Fight Reform - Category: #articles - URL: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/08/03/how-police-unions-fight-reform ## Highlights - Law enforcement kills more than a thousand Americans a year. Many are unarmed, and a disproportionate number are African-American. Very few of the officers involved face serious, if any, consequences, and much of that impunity is owed to the power of police unions. - Police unions enjoy a political paradox. Conservatives traditionally abhor labor unions but support the police. The left is critical of aggressive policing, yet has often muted its criticism of police unions—which are, after all, public-sector unions, an endangered and mostly progressive species. - In their interstitial safe zone, police unions can offer their members extraordinary protections. Officers accused of misconduct may be given legal representation paid for by the city, and ample time to review evidence before speaking to investigators. In many cases, suspended officers have their pay guaranteed, and disciplinary recommendations of oversight boards are ignored. Complaints submitted too late are disqualified. Records of misconduct may be kept secret, and permanently destroyed after as little as sixty days. - In the early sixties, white racial anxiety helped strengthen the unions’ position. The civil-rights movement was gathering force, street crime was increasing, and white flight was transforming cities. - By the end of the sixties, a racialized law-and-order ideology had emerged as a sort of unexamined American consensus, and it has basically prevailed since then, providing the political context in which police unions thrive. - White cops, Black and brown suspects: that remains the dominant paradigm. - In the sixties, the N.Y.P.D. dropped a longtime requirement that its officers live in the five boroughs, and the P.B.A. has fought off every suggestion that the requirement be revived. - In 2014, the Daily News looked at the hundred and seventy-nine killings committed by on-duty N.Y.P.D. officers in the previous fifteen years and found that all those deaths had produced only three indictments and one conviction—which brought no jail time. - Police unions are prohibited from striking, but they impose themselves through illegal work slowdowns—a tactic known as the “blue flu.” - officers learn to be afraid.” This message is then drummed into young cops on the job. The only way to survive is by hypervigilance, addressing civilians in a tone of “unquestioned command,” and identifying those who don’t readily accede to authority as enemies. - Pro-police analysts always talk about bad apples; it’s only a few cops who misbehave—ten per cent, tops. But the problem is that the other ninety per cent inevitably know about their misconduct and thus are made complicit. Why don’t they come forward? Everybody hates a rat, and everybody mentions the Blue Wall of Silence, or something called “police culture.” - Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor and industry at Harvard Law School, points to new data showing that, when police have greater access to collective bargaining, it correlates with a long-term increase in police killing of civilians, specifically nonwhite civilians. Strong union towns like Chicago often have a more dangerous police culture than cities with weak labor laws do. In Dallas, for instance, the main police union is not the sole bargaining agent. Several different groups, including fraternal organizations of African-American and Latino officers, sign off on union contracts. The result is both more transparent and markedly less violent policing. - A public-sector union is distinct from its private-sector counterparts; its negotiations necessarily include, at least morally, a third party—the public, the taxpayer. And yet many police unions, in their contracts and their ideology, seem to make no provision for this invisible third party. They defend their members against the public, and punish whistle-blowers with even greater zeal than management does. - Since the protests began, more than five hundred officers have filed for retirement—almost twice the figure from the same period last year. The chief of the lieutenants’ union told the Post that the police were feeling “demoralized and abandoned.” Another possible factor: many officers had earned huge amounts of overtime, between working the protests and covering pandemic sick days, and their pensions, based on their final year’s salary, were as lucrative as they’d ever be. The office that handles retirements was so swamped that it was seeing people only by appointment. - A fraternal organization of Black officers, called the Guardians Association, has long dissented from the union’s hostility to civilian oversight.