Cop Unions

Recently, much attention has been paid to cops behaving the way cops often behave: killing blacks, harassing blacks, abusing blacks, and so on. One line of commentary on this newfound interest in long-standing cop abuse is that this abuse is the fault of (or cannot be stopped because of) police unions. While I have no particular interest in police unions per se, I must say that I find this a rather laughable simplification.

For starters, police are unionized basically everywhere in the world. Canada has police unions. The United Kingdom has police unions. Australia has police unions. The Nordics (Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland) all have police unions, which are then further organized into a broader Nordic police union federation (Nordiska Polisförbundet), which itself is further organized into the broader European police union federation (EuroCOP).

Despite this rampant police unionization all over the world, you don’t see police abuse on anywhere near the scale you see in the US. Why might that be? I speculate that it’s because the issue is really something else entirely, perhaps unique levels of sadism, racism, urban soldier nutcase mentalities, and a political society that is, in fact, heavily supportive of police abuse directed at non-whites.

There is something almost precious about the idea that if you erase the explicit organizational form of the union, while holding everything else in place, you’d see some sort of noticeable improvement. The police unions, I am going to suggest, reflect very well the id and interests of their members. The Blue Wall of Silence is a behavioral code bubbling out of cops themselves, not imposed on them from the police union bosses. The racism and paranoia of cops are also not being imposed on them by the union chiefs. The cancer among the police emanates organically from the police officers themselves and the self-perpetuating norms and codes they seem generally to subscribe to.

The person fingering police unions may admit all this, but insist that police unions are at least marginally the issue because they make it to where you can’t get rid of the bad cops. But this supposes that sans union there is actually interest in doing any such thing. Police management (from the chief on down) are themselves sourced almost entirely from the Blue Brotherhood. There is no reason to believe that they are especially different from rank-and-file police in their beliefs concerning appropriate behavior and such. I find it hard to believe therefore that changing the organizational form of labor relations is going to increase day-to-day scrutiny of police behavior.

Of course, the police management is in some way answerable to elected governments, and so maybe through that channel pressure could be placed on them in the unionless world to fight the cop cancer. But the problem here is, as I mentioned above, there is little reason to believe that the public at large is interested in rooting out police abuse towards blacks. Every time one of these big stories hit, you see this in pretty significant degree. The whites (especially conservative whites) come out in big time support of police.

The nature of police unions in the US is much more an effect of the way police and policing in the US are than it is the cause of those things. That doesn’t mean that you may not want to battle them in some way. It just means that doing so won’t get you nearly as far as some seem to think.