Bad Cops — Bad Unions

For my internet video this week, my staff showed me clips of violent cops.

It’s not just Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes — it’s the other cops who just watch.

It’s the Buffalo cops who floored a protester and simply walked by as he lay unconscious, bleeding out of his ear. It’s a cop in Philadelphia, swinging his baton into protestors, the Atlanta police needlessly tasing two college students, the NYC cops beating a bicyclist and dozens of cases where police lied about what they’d done until bodycams or cellphone cameras revealed the truth.

None of this justifies looting, arson and violence against other cops.

But I understand the rage.

Policing is the rare profession given where employees are given a legal right to use deadly force. Most officers use that power responsibly.

But America has 800,000 cops. If just a fraction is racist or sadistic, that’s a lot of racist and sadistic bullies.

What can be done about that?

“The problem is repeat offenders. The system doesn’t fire those cops,” says Washington Post columnist Radley Balko. “The job of a union is to protect the interest of its members, really at any cost.” So, bad cops keep policing.

The officer who killed George Floyd had 18 complaints filed against him.

A San Antonio cop was caught challenging prisoners to “take off your cuffs and fight for your freedom!” Then he did it again. Technicalities in his union’s contract forced police to reinstate him, twice.

“There’s a strong argument to be made that we need to get rid of police unions entirely,” says Balko.

What’s the union’s side of the story?

Cops have a hard job. They must make split-second decisions and act as peacekeepers, baby sitters, marriage counselors and more. They deal with people at the worst time of those people’s lives. It may be why officers have a high suicide rate.

“Unions are there for a reason,” says Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. “You have to protect these men and women.”

After two New York City cops drove into a crowd of protesters, I asked Cosme to justify that.

“Crowds are throwing bricks at them! You get to a state of panic. You can’t go forward. Can’t go backwards. So you try to get out of the situation!”

He added, “The police should police themselves.”

“But you don’t,” I said. “They’re not held accountable. Especially union officers. They do it again and again. It gets erased from their records.”

Cosme disagrees. “They are disciplined… If you don’t have these protections, then no one’s going to want to be a police officer.”

But only about half of America’s police belong to a union. Where cops are not unionized, says Balko, “there’s no shortage of police officers.”

Police unions also make police departments harder to manage.

In crime-ridden Camden, New Jersey, union cops took so much sick time and family leave that, most days, nearly 30% of the force just didn’t show up. So, Camden fired all of them.

Camden rehired some, but only those willing to go along with new rules that made it easier to fire and discipline.

The result: Murder went down, and Camden saved money.

Per-officer costs dropped from $182,168 to $99,605. That allowed Camden to double the size of its force from “bare bones” to “near the highest police presence of any city.”

Extra police allow for community policing — more people walk the beat, talking to residents.

Unfortunately, today’s protesters rarely mention police unions. Instead, they say: “Defund the police! Fund community programs, like job training.”

But that won’t stop crime. America has already spent trillions on job training and other government social engineering that rarely works. Initially, the programs are staffed by well-intended people who want to help. But over time, they become wasteful, ossified bureaucracies, like most government programs.

We need cops. Police presence does reduce crime.

But we need cops who can be held responsible for their actions.

9 thoughts on “Bad Cops — Bad Unions

  1. Making sure officers are better trained and getting the unions out in places they are is the reform that is needed.

  2. And we need citizens to not resist the police officer. That’s not the time to argue your case. The judge won’t shoot you.

  3. Unions came into existence to protect workers from greedy and sometimes heartless employers. Unfortunately, once provided with union strength and protection, many workers have become lazy and nonproductive. It is a constant and frustrating struggle to balance the power between benevolent workers and employers versus greedy and unmotivated employers and employees.

  4. We have or had a 3 strike rule for criminals why not for Cops. I also like some sort of clearing house for violations and some sort of third party to rule on Police Brutality claims. Its never good to rely on the accused party to rule on themselves.

  5. It may well be true that Policemen need a Union to ensure that they are not unfairly treated but when the Union protects Bad Cops regardless then we have a problem. The Police are supposed to be to protect the Community not to brutalize and cheat and steal from them. If a Cop does something unethical he should be punished that is fundamental to good policing.
    When I was a child we used to run to hold the hand of the local policeman . They were polite, kindly but forcefull when dealing with crime. Today if you approach a policeman to ask him a genuine question, his hand goes to his gun and he treats you like a criminal. There is something radically wrong with the Police Psychology.

  6. Get rid of the rat, snitch stigma. They need to police themselves just as they do the public. We do something wrong we get arrested. The same should go for them. But the fear of the others turning their back when they need help just because they tried to right a wrong, gives them pause. Coworkers do wrong they need to be turned in. Otherwise you’re doing yourself as well as your other coworkers an injustice. Plus not saying anything is just the same as being an accomplice. You’re allowing the crime to go unpunished.

  7. Great article but it overlooks one obvious point, Unions are a Business. These are not organization for the betterment of the worker, those days have long passed. They are businesses whose market strategy is to promise the freebies to people who feel entitled. It is not a race issue because this happens in unions no matter what the worker’s ethnicity. It is a target audience much like religion (no offense) where people like Kenneth Copeland know how to tell people what they want to hear, promise them what they want and then reap major profits meanwhile not having to actually do anything other than contract scam. They unions make money off of the offerings by those who feel that they are entitled to something they didn’t otherwise earn. It is time to collect on collective bargaining.

  8. No one hates bad cops more than good cops, you put me in the uncomfortable position of partially defending Derek Chauvin, you say he has 18 complaints against him, are they from civilians or his supervisors, are they for excessive force or wearing white socks in uniform, how many have been substantiated? Bad guys are directed by defense attorneys to make complaints against the arresting officer all of time regardless of how there were treated during the arrest. If me & 17 of my friends call you a rapist on twitter does that make you a rapist? Of course not, you can ignore the twitter jerks, Police Officers must defend themselves despite the most outlandish complaints made against them, the union will assist with that process. The Camden PD took so many sick days because the city gave them all those sick days as part of negotiated contracts. Police in this country do a great job, & like everyone can always get better, much of the power possessed by the unions can be negotiated away, this falls to the municipalities the officers serve.

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