March 3, 2024

cops and their unions

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Bad cops and their unions
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – Imagine how different the last two weeks might have been if the president of the Minneapolis police union had condemned the brutal murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Instead, Union President Lt. Bob Kroll told union members Floyd is a “violent criminal” and the protestors gathering in the streets are a “terrorist movement.”
          He blamed city leaders for not using more force to put down the unrest. The normally outspoken Kroll has since gone quiet as the demonstrations continue and the Minneapolis City Council announced plans to disband or “defund” the police. But police union leaders should not be silent. They should be in the forefront of those condemning bad cops.
          “Defund the police” has caught on as a slogan but it should not be taken literally. It does not mean doing away with police and trusting everybody to operate on the honor system – except in one Seattle neighborhood where the mayor foolishly eliminated a police presence.
          What it does mean is re-thinking what we expect the police to do. They are there to provide public safety. And they are effective if they are trusted by the communities they serve. In fact, the Clinton administration funded the concept of more police on the beat for that very purpose.
          Police union leaders should be appalled at what they saw on that video clip of a Minneapolis police officer holding his knee on the neck of a man who was face down and handcuffed and had not resisted arrest.  The look on the now fired Officer Chauvin’s face was that of disinterest. He could have been watching ESPN while the man under his knee couldn’t breathe.
          There had been at least 17 complaints against Chauvin in his 19-year career on the force, and yet he was still on the streets patrolling neighborhoods.
          Getting rid of Chauvin and others like him has been almost impossible due to police union power. The vast majority of cops are good people trying to do a hard job, but there are the so-called “bad apples.” And they are not all that rare, as people of color across the country tell their stories of police misconduct.
          Even with all the attention on police procedures, protestors with cell phones in recent days captured videos of multiple examples of police using excessive force.
          Defunding the police has been done successfully, most notably in Camden, New Jersey. It is perhaps the only way to get around the blockade of police unions. Camden in 2013 was in crisis with a murder rate 18 times the national average and rampant street crime. The mayor and city council agreed to disband the police department, which meant firing everyone. Many were rehired but only after undergoing a psychological evaluation, pass a new physical and go through the interview process like a new hire with the bar set a good deal higher to weed out the bad apples.
          Former Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson, who led the newly constituted police department, was among those fired and re-hired as he oversaw a police force that became much more community-oriented with officers seen more as guardians than warriors. Performance was measured not by number of arrests and tickets written, but by community involvement. By the end of 2019, the city’s rate for violent and non-violent crime had dropped by historic levels.
          By firing everybody and starting anew, the city of Camden was able to get around the police union and remake itself. The road ahead is inherently political. Republicans generally oppose unions, but they love police unions. Kroll was onstage at a Trump rally in Minneapolis in October commending the President for “letting the cops do their jobs.”
          For Democrats, the cries to defund the police carry political risk. Trump says Democrats want to do away with the police, which is not true, but it is an easy slogan to exploit. Vice President Biden says he is for conditioning federal aid to police on their performance, a performance the protestors are telling us needs serious reform.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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