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Abolish Police Unions?

Police stand in rows on steps
By: Tim Worstall – – June 02, 2020

We can disagree, Left and Right, on how to handle the debate about racial justice spurred by the killing of George Floyd. But we should all be able to agree on at least one step forward: abolish police unions. I would argue, strongly, that it wasn’t racism (whether institutional or structural) that killed Floyd because, sadly, as the case of Justine Ruszyzk shows, death by cop doesn’t just happen to black people. Cops in Minneapolis have throttled at least 44 people into unconsciousness in just the past five years, that might have something to do with it. As to why that has happened, I insist that it’s because we don’t, yet we ought to, hold the police to the same general standards of care and attention that we do everyone else.

As Alex Tabbarok points out, union contracts mean that police, if arrested for some reason, enjoy privileges that the rest of us most certainly don’t if we’re arrested. As Sam Sinangwye points out (and he’s a researcher into this very problem), in places where union contracts provide more privileges, then police violence is greater. It’s useful to provide a reminder of what President Franklin Roosevelt said about public sector unions: There are “insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management.” The biggest problem here is we’re talking about the police — the very people who are supposed, at least, to be no more than (and absolutely no less than) citizens in uniform.

Sure, it’s true, those principles from Sir Robert Peel, the inventor of even the idea of a modern police force, apply much more in other English-speaking countries than they do in the United States, but this is part of the problem. As William Bratton has been known to point out, it is “policing by consent” that is important. The police are just some subset of all of us detailed to look after a certain section of what makes a society work. They exist to track down malefactors and, if necessary, to enforce public order. But the powers with which they do so should be those which are open to any of us. That power to arrest is not specific to those in uniform, a citizen’s arrest is entirely valid. To restrain someone engaging in violence, any of us may do that.

But with those same powers also goes the same responsibilities. To be as gentle as possible about it, to make a mistake should lead to the same consequences for the private citizen exercising those powers as it should be for those in uniform. The same is true of abusing those powers too. This is where unions and their contracts become that problem.

The agreements that have built up over the years, such things as qualified immunity for the police and other inequalities before the law, are specifically there in order to release the police from those same responsibilities in the exercise of those powers. That’s what unions are for, of course, to privilege union members — which is why we must not have them in the police force.

Getting rid of these special arrangements means getting rid of the unions that negotiate them. That might only be a start, but it’s a necessary precondition. Abolishing police unions would be the first step in moving police forces away from their position as legally privileged occupying powers back to what they ought to be — just the citizenry in uniform serving the society they are a part of.

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Source: Abolish police unions, and the law can finally treat officers like everyone else

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