Back on the streets

Here’s an uncomfortable subject to think about – police unions, and the part they play in keeping abusive cops from being fired.

There are, of course, police officers who are fired for egregious misbehavior by commanding officers who decide that a given abuse makes them unfit for a badge and gun. Yet all over the U.S., police unions help many of those cops to get their jobs back, often via secretive appeals geared to protect labor rights rather than public safety. Cops deemed unqualified by their own bosses are put back on the streets. Their colleagues get the message that police [are] all but impervious to termination.

I think labor rights are important, and unions are mostly a good thing for that reason. But…I’m not thrilled if teachers’ unions keep bad teachers in the classroom, and I’m not thrilled if cops’ unions keep killer cops on the streets.

Let’s begin in Oakland, California, where the San Jose Mercury News reports that “of the last 15 arbitration cases in which officers have appealed punishments, those punishments have been revoked in seven cases and reduced in five others.”

Hector Jimenez is one Oakland policeman who was fired and reinstated. In 2007, he shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old man. Just seven months later, he killed another unarmed man, shooting him three times in the back as he ran away. Oakland paid a $650,000 settlement to the dead man’s family in a lawsuit and fired Jimenez, who appealed through his police union. Despite killing two unarmed men and costing taxpayers all that money, he was reinstated and given back pay.

Conor Friedersdorf gives a lot more examples along the same lines, then sums up.

Society entrusts police officers with awesome power. The stakes could not be higher when they abuse it: Innocents are killed, wrongly imprisoned, beaten, harassed—and as knowledge of such abuses spreads, respect for the rule of law wanes. If police officers were at-will employees (as I’ve been at every job I’ve ever held), none of the cops mentioned above would now be walking the streets with badges and loaded guns. Perhaps one or two of them deserved to be exonerated, despite how bad their cases look. Does the benefit of being scrupulously fair to those individuals justify the cost of having more abusive cops on the street?




  1. says

    That’s why I was angry with the response of the Toronto police union to the head of the police board’s facebook post. The police union should be as intent on purging abusive cops from their ranks as the civilian board and the public ought to be. It’s their reputation (and their funding) on the line. They want to be accorded respect? They should be doing their utmost to make sure that their members are respectable and do their jobs without abusing the citizens (even the ones committing crimes) whom they’re tasked with protecting. As you say, same goes for teachers.

  2. says

    You can horrify yourself with this:

    The policeman’s union is blaming the assassination of those two cops on … city hall, because they didn’t help whitewash cop violence. Sheesh, I didn’t realize those killings were related to ethics in police journalism!!

    We tried to warn it must not go on, it cannot be tolerated,” Lynch continued. “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.”

    Also on Saturday evening, video obtained by the New York Post showed several officers turning their backs on the mayor as he made his way down a hallway at Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn, where Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu had earlier been pronounced dead.

    I’m not fazed. My respect for cops hit zero sometime in the 80s and hasn’t budged since, only because there’s nowhere “down” left to go.

  3. johnthedrunkard says

    Certainly in California, the police and prison unions are almost the only ones still standing with any political clout.

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