Police Unions are Under Scrutiny

Commentary & Community

Police Unions are Under Scrutiny

The protests over the George Floyd killing and other actions by the law enforcement often include a call to reform police departments. Some observers say that one obstacle to such reforms is police unions, which represent millions of law enforcement officers across the nation.


Many cities and counties allow collective bargaining for police officers. The unions that represent these officers bargain for pay, working conditions, and other contract provisions to govern their members. Some of these provisions concern the investigation, discipline, and dismissal of officers who have been accused of misconduct. Some are accusing these provisions of preventing bad officers from being fired and protecting officers from the consequences of unjustified violent action.


According to these critics, unions negotiate levels of protection that make it very expensive and difficult for bad police officers to be fired or otherwise disciplined. They point to the fact that the officer who killed George Floyd had numerous complaints filed against him, but he was still working for the Minneapolis police department. One way to improve policing, these critics argue, is to reduce the power of police unions to protect violent police officers.


Union leadership pushes back against these concerns, however. They contend that police officers face a uniquely difficult task, one that often results in complaints being filed against police. They argue that police need to have a process that gives them formal protections in order to ensure that they are not unfairly disciplined or fired.


Some police union officials have come under fire during recent disturbances resulting from George Floyd’s death. These officials have strongly supported police officials arrested for violence against protestors. Elected officials and marchers say these actions illustrate why police unions need reform, while union officials argue they are merely standing up for their membership who are being unjustly accused of crimes.


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