Police unions have too much power. It’s time to hold them accountable.

No More

All across the country, police union contracts contain language that blocks officer accountability for police brutality. From destroying records of an officer’s past misconduct, to disqualifying new complaints of misconduct from being investigated or resulting in discipline. We must demand cities remove all matters of investigations, discipline, and records retention from the police union contracts. For example, Washington DC’s council just passed legislation removing all disciplinary matters from the scope of police union contract negotiations - making police accountability non-negotiable. This legislation specified that:

“(1) All matters pertaining to the discipline of sworn law enforcement personnel shall be retained by management and not be negotiable...Collective bargaining agreements are an essential tool for workers to negotiate and receive fair compensation, benefits, and workplace accommodations, but they should not be used to shield employees from accountability, particularly those employees who have as much as power as police officers. This subtitle ensures that future collective bargaining agreements between the Fraternal Order of Police/Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee and the District of Columbia does not restrict management's right to discipline sworn officers.”

In most cities, police union contracts allow officers who are disciplined or fired for misconduct to reduce or completely overturn these decisions by appealing to arbitrators. Arbitrators are lawyers who are not accountable to the public/voters and are chosen, in part, by the police union. Arbitrators routinely reinstate officers who’ve caused harm and been found guilty of police misconduct, including those who’ve killed people. Cities should replace arbitrators as the final decision makers on police accountability with people who are liable to the public - for example, the city council, Mayor or community oversight structure. For instance, Delano, CA created a process, specified in their police union contract, that gives the city council the power to overrule decisions made by arbitrators. This decisive power allows the city to stop an officer from being reinstated after being fired for misconduct.

20 states have special laws called “Police Bill of Rights” laws, that contain many of the same problematic provisions contained within police union contracts. These laws block accountability at the state-level and provide these problematic protections to officers at a larger scale. The vast majority of voters support repealing these laws in each state. We must demand that Governors and state legislators take action immediately to repeal these laws.

Police unions and police union contracts contain provisions that can block cities from cutting their police department budget, or creating non-policing alternative approaches to public safety. 85% of the average police department’s budget is spent on personnel costs, which means primarily paying to employ the officers on their force. Yet, in places like Muncie, IN, the police union contract requires the city to employ additional officers each year - limiting the ability to cut the budget. Other cities, like Columbus, OH, have a police union contract that restricts duties that are performed by law enforcement from being performed by a civilian employee like a mental health first responder. Cities should repeal these provisions, creating pathways for communities to reimagine and transform public safety.

Police unions have spent millions to influence and lobby politicians to pass laws that protect the police at the expense of public safety and block legislation to hold police accountable. Local, state and federal politicians should reject donations and influence from police unions, diminishing their power to rig the system. Similarly bar associations should act to restrict prosecutors from taking donations from police unions - a conflict of interest whereby prosecutors are funded by the police they are tasked with also investigating.

Police union contracts are usually negotiated behind closed doors. Cities should include representatives from community organizations on the negotiating committee to ensure communities have a voice in the process that ultimately shapes policing in their city. For example, the Austin Justice Coalition attended the negotiating sessions as one strategy they used to hold the city accountable to changing their police union contract.Their ability to attend the negotiations allowed a new degree of transparency for the community and ultimately resulted in a unanimous city council vote against the proposed police union contract.