by Chris Braunlich

With the General Assembly taking up policing reform in this summer’s special session, there should be at least one bill stopping a problem before it begins.

Most big problems are created by a small number of people. The same is true of police officer transgressions. Most police officers are good police officers, but Derek Chauvin was a bad cop with 18 prior complaints in 19 years at the time he killed George Floyd. His partner, Tou Thao, has six complaints, including an open one at the point he was fired. The head of their police union, Lt. Bob Kroll, is the subject of at least 29 complaints.

Their continued presence was an insult to the more than 680,000 good law enforcement officers who are guardians of our safety, who took the job to serve the public and who put their lives on the line.

Yet, instead of eliminating a narrow source of major abuse, they were allowed to continue their abuse of Minneapolis citizenry. Why?

Increasingly, we can point to provisions commonly found in Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) negotiated between governments and the police union as part of the contract process. The issue has never arisen in Virginia before, because collective bargaining was prohibited. But Governor Ralph Northam has signed into law legislation that could mean local governments and their police unions next year will negotiate the conditions of the disciplinary process against misbehavior by individual police officers.

This is a bad idea. A review of police contracts in 81 of the nation’s largest cities demonstrates a number of ways accountability over police actions is thwarted –

  • 50 cities restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place – sometimes delaying interrogations for up to 30 days.
  • 41 cities give officers under investigation access to information that civilian suspects do not get.
  • 64 cities limit disciplinary consequences for officers, including preventing an officer’s history of past misconduct from being considered in future cases.
  • 43 cities erase records of misconduct, in some cases in as little time as six months.

Perhaps worst of all, 48 cities let officers appeal disciplinary decisions to an arbitrator who can reinstate that officer. This has led to cases like that of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who in 2014 killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by shooting him in the back as he was walking away. At the time, Van Dyke had been the subject of 20 complaints, ten of which alleged excessive use of force.

Or Oakland, California officer Hector Jimenez, who killed an unarmed man, shooting him three times in the back as he ran away — just seven months after Jimenez had shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old. Despite killing two unarmed men and costing taxpayers $650,000 in a settlement to one of the dead men’s family, he was reinstated and given back pay.

You surely will remember Sgt. Brian Miller, a sheriff’s deputy who, as a gunman murdered 17 students inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, hid behind his police cruiser and waited 10 minutes before radioing for help. Fired for “neglect of duty” he was reinstated last month with full back pay — estimated at more than $138,000.

The problem is more than anecdotal.

A 2018 University of Florida study updated last year examined the “before” and “after” effects of a 2003 Florida Supreme Court decision conferring collective bargaining rights on sheriffs’ deputies. It concluded that “collective bargaining rights led to a substantial increase in violent incidents of misconduct among Sheriffs’ offices.”

A forthcoming research study out of the University of Victoria’s economics department looked at the roll-out of collective bargaining rights for police at the state level over 30 years, and found the introduction of access to collective bargaining results in “a substantial increase in police killings of civilians over the medium to long run … of whom the overwhelming majority are non-white.”

And a 2017 Duke Law Journal article examined 178 union contracts, showing how “these agreements can frustrate police accountability efforts” by “limiting officer interrogations after alleged misconduct, mandating the destruction of disciplinary records, indemnifying officers in the event of civil suits and limiting the length of internal investigations.

Good police officers shouldn’t pay the price for bad cops. But overwhelming evidence shows that collective bargaining agreements create obstacles to holding bad cops accountable, and there is a growing national consensus among conservatives and liberals to eliminate these mechanisms.

The General Assembly has an opportunity in its special session to limit the scope of public safety officer collective bargaining to compensation and benefits. It should do so and stop the problem before it begins in Virginia.

Chris Braunlich is president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. This column was published originally in an Institute email distribution. 

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27 responses to “Stop the Problem Before It Starts”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I note this article in the bad old WaPo:

    ” Police unions and police misconduct: What the research says about the connection
    The topic is understudied, but virtually all of the work that has been done reaches the same conclusion

    Though an understudied topic of criminology, what research that does exist is unequivocal: “Virtually all of the published items that express an opinion on the impact of police unions regard them as having a negative effect, particularly on innovation, accountability, and police — community relations,” as a review in the journal Police Practice and Research put it.”

    I’ve been a skeptic but I’m becoming more convinced that the way police have been unionized with respect to transparency and accountability is a problem and likely is at the root of the inability to find and fire bad cops.

  2. LGABRIEL Avatar

    Finally an issue where all sides can work together and make some observable progress that should convince most citizens that we are addressing the problem of police brutality without devastating our law enforcement agencies. I just hope that making progress on this issue will not be overshadowed by conflicts and deadlocks on other aspects of the problem.

  3. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    When you find a bad cop, don’t just fire him so he goes elsewhere, suspend his Cop Lincense!

    Oh wait…

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Actually, you can indeed do that.

      1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

        They exist. But only as an Associate Degree in Law Enforcement. It is not, repeat NOT, a requirement.

        “Obviously, the main license required by a police officer is to be one.”

        1. Steve Haner Avatar
          Steve Haner

          For some reason I can’t get the state agency’s website open. Department of Criminal Justice Services.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    Yes, it’s MORE than just collective bargaining and it’s going to be a mistake to think that getting rid of collective bargaining will fix the problem.

    You ought not to be hiring bad cops shed from other forces and no I do not buy the “we did not know” excuse. Geeze, now days, people are denied jobs over what they wrote on social media. If we can’t do a proper background check on a cop – don’t be blaming unions for that…

    There’s another problem we need to face. You don’t hire white cops who live outside the city to patrol black neighborhoods in the city. Again, that’s not a union issue.

    Ideally, you want cops who live in the areas they patrol. You want them to be known to the community and not feared by the community. Again, no union prevents this.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Actually, Chris is merely advising that any contracts be carefully written, and the more obnoxious elements omitted. The general issue of unionization is a here, whether he and I like it or not. So let’s look at the problems.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        if so… are we saying that it’s “systemic” that bad collective bargaining contracts are the norm and that’s the real problem that police chiefs and mayors don’t know how to write those contracts or just fold on the issues instead of insisting on standards?

        The thing is – GOOD cops KNOW when bad cops are in their ranks and leadership does nothing about it or worse – makes the bad Cops the model that is rewarded.

        There ARE ……. GOOD police departments – even ones that are unionized… what we are seeing is what happens even when a small number are not – and it gets video-taped.

        so I do have a question. If a “bad” cop can be fired – almost immediately – then why are we blaming the unions for bad cops?

        1. WayneS Avatar

          Who said bad cops can be fired almost immediately?

          The whole point of the story is that union contracts often prevent bad cops from being fired almost immediately.

    2. WayneS Avatar

      “You don’t hire white cops who live outside the city to patrol black neighborhoods in the city.”

      So, you DON’T believe in judging people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin?

      Reverse the races in your statement, then look me in the eye and tell me it’s not racist.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        It’s NOT racist at all to have police that come from the community they are policing. It’s NOT racist to have policing that better understands the community it serves, how it “works”, it’s problems and issues.

        Urban communities are different from suburban communities as are rural communities different.

        It’s not race that is the issue. It’s demographics.

        They better understand the life that folks are living, their problems, and issues… and “culture” … an urban “culture” is not the same as a “rural” culture…

        1. WayneS Avatar

          You wrote: “It’s not race that is the issue. It’s demographics.”

          That being the case, when why did you previously state: “You don’t hire white cops who live outside the city to patrol black neighborhoods in the city.”? That statement is ALL about race?

          With that said, why should the government intentionally shelter one particular demographic from encountering people who are are different from them?

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            emphasis as much on “in city” and “outside city” but I stand by my comment if a city neighborhood is mostly black (or non-white, minorities) that white cops who live in the suburbs are not a good match.

            I don’t see it as “sheltering”. I take seriously the phrase: “protect and serve”. They are serving that community – the vast majorith of which are NOT “criminals”, not enemies of each other nor the police. The police are there to serve THEM not be feared.

            This would be true for ANY “community” city, suburban, rural… the police need to represent the demographic and their job is t protect AND serve.

  5. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    This is good post. So is this comment: “When you find a bad cop, don’t just fire him so he goes elsewhere, suspend his Cop Lincense! Oh wait…”

    The huge obstacle to a solution here is the corrupted society we live in – one short on morals, integrity, honestly and civility from its top to its bottom, a lack of decency and manners put on steroids by the self induced hyper polarization of the political class, the media, the newspapers, and now looters, rioters, and vandals that increasingly are given cover, a free pass, and even supported by growing numbers of our politicians and institutions, public and private.

    Hence, now there is a growing war against the police on all levels. From de-funding and dismantling whole departments, to organized campaigns to entrap and punish them, now to point of refusing to fully investigate before charging them, and forget about grand juries.

    No wonder Policeman feel under constant assault.

    I am reminded of when universities began to allow students to grade, rank, and file complaints against professors. This seemingly benign change ruined teaching, as professors quickly became afraid to grade their students honestly, speak honestly, and teach honestly. Professor living in fear of students ruined higher education. The literature is full of stories on this. And of course now this fear of those in authority is spreading throughout our society, into work places, science, research, the military, our political parties, even our friendships.

    As long as half our society wars against our police, a tactic brought to a high state of organization in the Spring and Summer of 2017 in C’ville, bringing justice to police officers on the streets will never happen, never be achieved. This will not end well.

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      I have a couple of comments, as usual.
      We must also stop perpetuating myths about police officers. A few years back, a now BR contributor, who shall remain nameless, wrote a gushing piece in her column at the Virginian Pilot about the “heroes in blue” and their dangerously deadly heroic job. The piece, a phoned-in rehash of everything every media outlet has said for 50 years, more since 911, repeated dangerous and hero as many times as possible; so often, I just had to look it up with the BLS.
      Dangerous? Not even close. Not in the top 10. Heroic? Well, a loose definition of hero. It’s a noble profession, and at some time, may call for a selfless act. But the simple act of getting dressed is not heroic.
      The problem with undue admiration is that it comes with undue license.
      Now, until last year I had 23 years of Uniform Student Evaluation Surveys in my file cabinet. The statistical questions I simply ignored. How I performed relative to other department faculty or relative to other departments’ faculty was worthless (albeit flattering), but I cherished the comments. Most were bland, but many were helpful, and each semester I took care to correct things that I could.
      FWIW, my two favorites were “Professor (ME) is very helpful and is willing to stop and answer any question… if you’re a girl.” The other was a joke, I hope, “This class is taught at a level that makes it difficult for the average student to make an ‘A’.”
      Now at my college, the Administration was the enemy. One year, they decided the student was the customer, and making the customer happy was primary, so they moved faculty parking into the netherworld, and gave close in spaces to the students.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        “One year, they decided the student was the customer, and making the customer happy was primary, so they moved faculty parking into the netherworld, and gave close in spaces to the students.”

        From what I read, that is when students became very valuable commodities given universities growing dependence on them as vitally needed cash cows, whether they be increasingly debt laden, or otherwise fat though affluent parents,

        Thus students and parents had to be kept fat, dumb, and happy to the fullest extent necessary for ever higher university ratings and for ever more money that universities craved for research critical to ratings, and luxury facilities that were critical to getting and keeping students to feed ratings and luxuries demand by university Administrators and research faculty.

        Thus, too, administrators made clear that professor’s first priority was not student achievement, but keeping all students firmly planted in their classroom seats for 4 to 7 years to graduation, and/or until going broke or losing interest without a degree if necessary.

        In a some cases, I exaggerate here, but not by much in most cases, save for STEM. Indeed, many insiders say a treaty was reached between faculty and students that each party would leave the other alone; so each could do “their own thing” that was more important to each group, than it was to the honest and rigorous education of the students. In a nutshell, students had fun, and faculty had their research, perks, and self promotion. Administrators who needed ever more fat happy cash rich students forced this.

        Thus teaching and its quality became a low status occupation in elite and many selective universities. And what the cash cows learned there had little to do with anything the institution valued, save now for the explosion of faculty activists social justice wars that universities abruptly learned to use to keep both bored and corrupted faculty and bored otherwise idle students suddenly happy and reunited at the very same time. This anger and ideology filled the growing void of despair and aimless drift at universities. Now drunk on their own success at fueling grievance and anger, the universities are faced with being swallowed up by the monster they’ve created.

        Meanwhile, back to the beginning of how this gestated most recently into today’s explosion. The story I remember most vividly was told by a highly accomplished professor of literature in his own book on the art of teaching. A man who valued and loved teaching at very well known elite university in Va,, he got to the point of fearing his students, that he was reduced to grading student papers only for punctuation, not on substance of the writing, or its quality.


        Even one charge by the student of racism, sexism, etc, etc, etc, could easily and quite unexpectedly end a professor’s career, when professors were abandoned by Administrators.

        Free thought, free expression, real learning tested by demanding standards, all these have vanished in many universities, save for STEM.
        To get a sense of only a few traps see Google:

        Increasingly, we are left with intolerance, hate, violence, and destruction of history, culture, learning, civility, and institutions, all of it bred and nursed to life and full bloom at America’s universities.

        1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

          I cannot necessarily disagree, nor fully agree, but between 1981 and 2005 at the university where I was an adjunct did change from the model dating back to Socrates to one almost but not quite exactly like Starbucks.
          The first change came when the school built a dormitory and then did indeed openly state “the student is the customer” and instituted changes like the parking lot that elevated the student over the instructor.
          The next major change came with the temporary firing of the entire adjunct faculty, and a moratorium on part time student enrollment. The school then cancelled the two programs that best served the community, teaching and nursing.
          As an institution of higher learning, well, it sucks. As a business, I wish I could have bought stock. BTW, the are right on the 1/3 out-of-state limit, and only seniors can live off-campus. One year, they packed two-person rooms with three and collected full rent. Brilliant!

          BTW, as a adjunct I was often involved with faculty protests to some of these events. I let it be known that I was much more powerful than a tenured member. I didn’t give a squat, it was my hobby.

        2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

          BTW, if I were sending my daughter to college today, it would be Harvey Mudd.

      2. WayneS Avatar

        ““This class is taught at a level that makes it difficult for the average student to make an ‘A’.””

        I love it! I, too, hope it was a joke.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    There are legitimate questions that some police unions do obfuscate accountability. But I fail to see how police can be prohibited from their right to organize. Sounds so Old South.

  7. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    There is a simple solution… Make the Police Union financially liable for, oh say, 25% of any judgements. This will force the Union to seek liability insurance.

    Believe this, once the insurance underwriters get involved, cops will become far more professional.

    1. WayneS Avatar

      Good idea, but I’d make it 50%.

  8. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Way back in the Age of Jackson, doctors, dentists, engineers, and many professionals had to deal with phony doctors and dentists who simply would hang a sign and open for business. So the real pros did something about it. The organized and created high standards. This gave birth to groups such as the American Dental Association, Society of Civil Engineers, and so on. This advanced the progress of the real pros. Maybe groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police can take action and police their own profession.

  9. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Unions gave lots of money to the Democrats in the 2019 election. The Democrats won control of both houses of the GA. Collective bargaining rights are part of the payoff. Case closed.

    Well not really. The D’s are probably trying to figure out how to cut out collective bargaining for the police but not the teachers.

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead V

      I can only imagine the cover lousy school teachers are going to get from collective bargaining. They already are camouflaged like a battlefield sniper. Even when exposed all we get is another episode of pass the trash.

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