In yesterday’s Daily Podcast, Caleb Brown of the Cato Institute featured Right on Crime Deputy Director Derek Cohen for a discussion about the influence of police unions, including their proper role, and various atypical protections they provide for their members that many individuals don’t receive.
One concern surrounding police unions, Cohen states—issues that aren’t necessarily seen among unions in other professions—is that it’s “nearly impossible to fully discipline an individual outside the purview of the union,” in large part due to so-called “Bill of Rights” provisions in their contracts that govern administrative disciplinary processes that go beyond simple labor interests. Such arrangements have the appearance, if not the effect, of creating a “privileged class when it comes to due process of meting out disciplinary issues or, in some cases, even criminal issues,” says Cohen, to the point where officers aren’t treated as suspects even when an activity is an alleged crime.
In an article for Reason a few years ago, Mike Riggs (currently with Families Against Mandatory Minimums) elaborates on many of these special administrative procedures certain law enforcement officers are privy to that aren’t found in most other professions:
“Unlike a member of the public, the officer gets a “cooling off” period before he has to respond to any questions. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is privy to the names of his complainants and their testimony against him before he is ever interrogated. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is to be interrogated “at a reasonable hour,” with a union member present. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can only be questioned by one person during his interrogation. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can be interrogated only “for reasonable periods,” which “shall be timed to allow for such personal necessities and rest periods as are reasonably necessary.” Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation cannot be “threatened with disciplinary action” at any point during his interrogation. If he is threatened with punishment, whatever he says following the threat cannot be used against him.”
Beyond creating additional layers of bureaucracy that make dispensing appropriate—and justified—disciplinary measures difficult, such union protections also impair the ability of good officers to “cast out those from the brotherhood” who do damage to the profession. Having such an ability, Cohen states, would increase the “credibility and prestige” of the profession, and make it easier for law enforcement agencies to maintain a high degree of public trust.
Cohen’s full conversation with Caleb Brown can be found below: