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Police Unions Block Meaningful Criminal Justice Reform

In 2014, New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo held Eric Garner in a chokehold after Pantaleo stopped the man for selling loose cigarettes. The banned chokehold and officers pressing Garner to the pavement triggered an asthma attack killing Garner. Pantaleo was fired and stripped of his pension, but a grand jury and prosecutors did not bring criminal charges. However, a trial at police headquarters found him guilty of reckless assault. The union stepped in to defend Pantaleo’s conduct after his firing. It “criticized the city for giving in to ‘anti-police extremists’ and warned that such decisions threatened the ability of city police to carry out their duties,” Reason reports.

Patrick Lynch, president of Pantaleo’s union, said, “We are urging all New York City police officers to proceed with the utmost caution in this new reality, in which they may be deemed ‘reckless’ just for doing their job.” That’s correct, the police unions stance was that “officers of the law should not be punished for using prohibited techniques in ways that result in the deaths of nonviolent offenders, because to do so would unduly inhibit police work,” Reason notes. “A deadly violation of department policy is just police ‘doing their job.’”

The Police Union Contract Project collects police union contracts from all across the country for comparison. The Project has found that the contracts are created to make it difficult to enforce accountability. The contracts make it unlikely officers will be required to respond to investigators’ inquiries in a timely manner. The contracts also restrict implementation of disciplinary measures, while it’s the public that is forced to bear the financial cost of any police misconduct.

Forthcoming University of Victoria research reveal a correlation between an increase in police killings, primarily of Black civilians, after unions brought collective bargaining to a police department. Which is exactly what you’d expect to find when unions protect officer compensation but minimize oversight and discipline. Unions often foster a culture of self-protection while diminishing public safety.

The police unions have become a barrier to accountability and the meaningful reforms that will increase positive policing and improve public safety in America. If our society truly means to eliminate abusive officers and bad policing, the unions must be busted up. 


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