Voters Oppose Contracts That Protect Bad Cops

By Steve Haner

As yet another bitter conflict over a police officer’s use of deadly force divides America, this time a case in Wisconsin, Virginia’s General Assembly forges ahead with opening up the state to the police unions that usually rush to protect their members from discipline or dismissal.

The Kenosha Professional Police Association was quick with its call for everybody to step back and let that investigation proceed. That is a fairly balanced statement, but then it put out a statement defending the officers’ behavior that ended with an entire clip emptied into somebody’s back.  Unions advocate for their members.

Among all the bills introduced in the General Assembly’s special session response to these cases are a handful seeking to prevent some of the worst problems seen when unions stand up for bad cops. One is already defeated, but two are languishing in a House committee, where they may or may not be heard. All three have Republican sponsors.

A poll conducted for the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy two weeks ago indicates they would have public and bipartisan support. The poll over-sampled Black Virginians, to be sure enough were called to give credence to that cross tabulation. Their support was in line with all Virginians.

To be specific:

  • 71.4% of Virginia voters oppose police union contract provisions automatically erasing information on past misconduct (68% of Black voters oppose these).
  • 64.3% oppose provisions restricting how, when, or where a police officer under investigation may be questioned (61% of Black voters).
  • 57.8% oppose provisions limiting disciplinary punishment for police officers guilty of misconduct (58.8% of Black voters).
  • 59.2% oppose providing police officers under investigation access to information civilians do not receive before being interrogated (58.8% of Black Virginians).
  • 68.8% oppose provisions allowing police officers accused of misconduct to use binding arbitration to return to the streets even when their Chief of Police objects (70.9% of Black voters).

Another key finding: In this age of declining media coverage and voter attention span, most Virginians have no idea that come next year, their local governments will be negotiating union contracts with teachers, fire fighters, garbage collectors and indeed law enforcement. The lowest awareness of that was among Republicans, a devastating indication of how pathetic GOP messaging has become in this more-and-more Blue State.

A summary of the poll results is here. It was the same sample that was asked the question about using state funds to help lower-income parents find and pay for educational alternatives when their kids are barred from in-person classes, also overall quite popular.

Republican State Senators voted in committee to support a bill to simply prohibit police unions, and that bill was rejected 12-3 on a party line vote.  Frankly, the cow is too far out of the barn and into the pasture to now prohibit the coming of unions to this arena. The 2020 regular session decided that.

But Del.David LaRock’s House Bill 5071 is tightly aligned with some of the narrow issues raised specifically in the poll, and an earlier paper on the issue by Thomas Jefferson Institute President Chris Bruanlich.

“The continued presence of police officers like Derek Chauvin is not only a danger to many Black citizens but an insult to the more than 680,000 law enforcement officers who are guardians of our safety and put their lives on the line,” Braunlich said. “They are there only because of the police union bargaining agreements permitting the manipulation of discipline and justice,” Braunlich wrote today.

“The Virginia General Assembly should stop the problem before it comes to Virginia by limiting police union bargaining agreements.”

LaRock’s bill would at least mitigate the problems to come. It did not come up in this week’s meeting of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, which may not meet again. The issue is unlikely to fade if that is what the Democrats hope. “If an officer is not playing by the rules, nobody benefits if the system is stacked in his favor,” LaRock said today.

Next year, it may be a Virginia officer sparking the kind of national violent response seen after the Kenosha shooting, a Virginia union official defending her with both soft words and a hard-nosed lawyer, and a union contract approved by a local Virginia government stacking the discipline process in the officer’s favor.  The warning in front of us could not be more obvious.