Liberals protesting bad cops need to take on unions

Whether or not you think there was probable cause to indict white police officers accused in Ferguson, Cleveland and/or Staten Island, most of us agree that those were cases of very bad police work. Police officers have a difficult job, but it’s reasonable for citizens to expect that officers avoid escalating confrontations and rushing to use deadly force.

Bad cops happen, just as bad doctors, lawyers, and accountants happen. They’re a relative minority, but some who become cops prove to be too hot-headed, racist, stubborn, sexist, power-hungry, sadistic, fearful, ignorant, impulsive, cynical and/or socially unskilled to protect and serve well.   Every profession faces competence issues, but it’s a more pressing and dangerous problem with a profession that we arm, authorize to use deadly force and almost never hold accountable after-the-fact.

Bad cops may be a small group, but they are a small group that can create big problems. For instance, Vox notes:

 WNYC looked at over 51,000 cases where someone was charged with “resisting arrest” since 2009. They found that 40 percent of those cases — over 20,000 — were committed by just 5 percent of all the police officers on the force. And 15 percent of officers accounted for a majority of all “resisting arrest” charges.

The upshot of this data is that charging people with “resisting arrest” is something most cops do very rarely, and a few cops do a lot. Here’s why that matters: if a cop is routinely hauling people into court for resisting arrest, he might be taking an overly aggressive attitude toward civilians.

A police officer might even, as police accountability expert Sam Walker told WNYC, use the criminal charge to cover up his use of excessive force:

“There’s a widespread pattern in American policing where resisting arrest charges are used to sort of cover – and that phrase is used – the officer’s use of force,” said Walker, the accountability expert from the University of Nebraska. “Why did the officer use force? Well, the person was resisting arrest.”

So why not just fire the relatively small group of bad cops who create big problems? A big reason is cop culture. Cops pride themselves in having each others’ backs, so they circle the wagons, even to the point of cover-ups, when one of their own is criticized. Police officers get overly defensive when they hear criticism from those who have never been in their shoes.

Outsiders probably can’t fix the problem with cop culture, but there is a part of the problem outsiders can fix.  Another reason bad cops don’t get fired is unions. In the name of job security, due process and fairness, unions make it more difficult to fire poor performers, as this Atlantic article details.

The solution? I agree with Atlantic author Connor Friedersdorf:

If at-will employment, the standard that would best protect the public, is not currently possible, arbitration proceedings should at a minimum be transparent and fully reviewable so that miscarriages of justice are known when they happen. With full facts, the public would favor at-will employment eventually.

I’m glad that liberals are protesting police abuse. But we need to also be pushing for at-will employment of police officers, or otherwise making it easier to remove bad cops, even if that upsets liberals’ union allies. If liberals are truly serious about reducing the number of abusive police officers on the streets, they can’t allow their solidarity with unions to continue to keep them from addressing this significant part of the problem.

This post was written by Joe Loveland and originally published on Wry Wing Politics.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 12/12/2014 - 12:17 pm.

    This is an incredibly weak jump, from the fact that acts of police brutality, or “bad cop” behavior, are the work of very few cops of the total, to an attack on labor unions. Pure ideology, and sad to see.

  2. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 12/12/2014 - 02:44 pm.

    ‘Disgusting’ is about the only word I can think to use to describe this piece while still meeting comment submission standards.

    I’d also point out that while those danged ‘liberals’ have been protesting police brutality, it’s not the police union that decides to continually NOT indict abusive police officers who kill unarmed civilians.

    I guess the next time I need to know what boogeymen will be turned into straw men, I’ll read some more tripe from Joe Loveland.

  3. Submitted by Joe Loveland on 12/12/2014 - 03:07 pm.

    Also, this from Jacobin, which bills itself as “the leading voice of the left, offering socialist perspectives…”

    “When police unions have widened their gaze beyond issues like compensation and working conditions, it’s been almost exclusively to advance conservative ends. “Police,” as Williams puts it, “organize as police, not workers.”

    They’ve bitterly opposed civilian review boards (and, if established, have sought to undermine them). They’ve fought the placement of names and badge numbers on officer uniforms. They’ve resisted rooting out police misconduct. ”

  4. Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 12/12/2014 - 09:50 pm.

    Bad Cops

    Holy Schnikey! “… hot-headed, racist, stubborn, sexist, power-hungry, sadistic, fearful, ignorant, impulsive, cynical and/or socially unskilled…”

    No doubt where YOU are coming from, now is there???

    • Submitted by Joe Loveland on 12/13/2014 - 04:48 pm.

      To clarify

      In the sentence you quote, note the choice of the words “some” and “and/or.”

      That means that I think that there are some in the universe of cops who are one or more of those things. If you truly believe that there are no police officers in America who fit any of those descriptions, then we do have an honest disagreement. But I just want to make sure you understand what I am actually saying.

  5. Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 12/12/2014 - 10:03 pm.

    MORE on Bad Cops

    Seems to me most EVERYTHING that is said here about ‘bad cops’ could be said about public employees in general–tax agents, teachers, or clerks at the DMV.

    They find it easy to forget the original high-level mission. They forget who it is that they are there to serve. They have union-enforced job security. (although I will say this…cops have the BEST argument for union protection of any public employees. T\When the heat is on, they get little support from elected officials. We do not want to live in a world where the thin blue line ceases to exist,)

    • Submitted by Joe Loveland on 12/15/2014 - 08:04 am.

      Why the focus here on cops

      You are correct. We do have public employees who are “hot-headed, racist, stubborn, sexist, power-hungry, sadistic, fearful, ignorant, impulsive, cynical and/or socially unskilled.” As I say, these are qualities found in every profession, in both the public and private sectors.

      But as I also say here, “it’s a more pressing and dangerous problem with a profession that we arm, authorize to use deadly force and almost never hold accountable after-the-fact.”

      A racist public accountant with a short fuse is a bad thing, and shouldn’t be tolerated. But that accountant isn’t in a position to cause as much harm as police officers, so that’s why I’m writing about officers.

  6. Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/16/2014 - 08:15 am.

    Out of Step


    You have clearly broken lockstep with the wise liberals that closely follow these type of key liberal issues on the MinnPost comments.

    I think that this one says it all: “‘Disgusting’ is about the only word I can think to use to describe this piece while still meeting comment submission standards.”

    It seems that you have been taken roundly to the wood shed for your thought on this topic. Speaking of woodshed, this bit of labor union news was reported by yesterday’s The Glean, “Adrian Peterson has entered The Red Zone. As his union takes the NFL to federal court, USA Today’s Tom Pelissero writes, “The filing ends with a request from the NFLPA and Peterson ‘that this Court vacate the Arbitration Award in its entirety and grant such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper, including an order declaring that Mr. Peterson is entitled immediately to be reinstated as a player in the National Football League because he has already served far more than the maximum two-game suspension that could have been imposed under the CBA.’”

    This mirrors perfectly with my experience as a labor union member; much of the time and energy of the union is spent defending members who do not deserve the defense.

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