Accountability for Police and Why Its So Hard

The other day, in writing about how I think Black Lives Matter has lost its way, I said that I supported their goal of increasing accountability of police forces but that goal was going to take a lot of hard, nuts-and-bolts legislative and policy steps that BLM seems uninterested in pursuing.  This article from Reuters (via link from Overlawyered) gives one an idea of some of the issues that exist:

The episode is a telling snapshot of the power police unions flex across the United States, using political might to cement contracts that often provide a shield of protection to officers accused of misdeeds and erect barriers to residents complaining of abuse.

From city to city, union contracts have become just as crucial in governing departments as police manuals and city charters. Yet those contracts are coming under scrutiny amid civil rights protests over alleged police abuses, including shootings of unarmed black subjects.

Reuters, examining the fine print of 82 police union contracts in large cities across the country, found a pattern of protections afforded the men and women in blue:

• A majority of the contracts call for departments to erase disciplinary records, some after just six months, making it difficult to fire officers with a history of abuses. In 18 cities, suspensions are erased in three years or less. In Anchorage, Alaska, suspensions, demotions and disciplinary transfers are removed after two years.

• Nearly half of the contracts allow officers accused of misconduct to access the entire investigative file – including witness statements, GPS readouts, photos, videos and notes from the internal investigation – before being interrogated.

• Twenty cities, including San Antonio, allow officers accused of misconduct to forfeit sick leave or holiday and vacation time rather than serve suspensions.

• Eighteen cities require an officer’s written consent before the department publicly releases documents involving prior discipline or internal investigations.

• Contracts in 17 cities set time limits for citizens to file complaints about police officers – some as short as 30 days. Nine cities restrict anonymous complaints from being investigated.

Police and their supporters will say that Police have a particularly dangerous job and need such extra process protections.  In fact, while there are dangers, it is certainly not among the most dangerous jobs (trash collectors are twice as likely to die on the job than police).  I would argue that we give the police unique powers -- to use violence and to take away a persons liberty -- not possessed by any other citizens and thus we should expect more rather than fewer accountability provisions to go with these special powers.

I will say that I am not particularly optimistic about progress in this area.  The Right tends to fetishize police and are tend to oppose any restrictions on police.  The Left is the natural home for police reform, but most on the Left are loath to take on public employee unions, probably their strongest base of political power, and most of these changes (as seen above) require challenging the police unions.  Black Lives Matter brought a lot of focus to these issues, but they simply can't seem to get past disruption and into policy changes and legislation, and besides the group appears to have been hijacked by the Left to be a vehicle for generic protests of Progressive causes like climate change legislation.


  1. rst1317:

    The sign "I'm here because a racist said I shouldn't come" explains why BLM was bound to be unfocused on this. They're either too busy making things up --- I doubt the gentlemen knows an actual racist let alone had a conversation which involved the racist telling him not to go AND that's why he showed up. Or they - - as you and others have pointed out - - paint anyone with such a broad brush that they actually think that someone who says "what? You guys are going to mess with the MN State Fair? Don't; it won't win anyone over" gets interpreted as "racist" because it's not explicitly endorsing exactly what they want to do.

  2. rst1317:

    You can't build the coalitions needed to pass legislation when everyone who doesn't fall into your party ideology is cast aside as a racist or uncle tom.

  3. kidmugsy:

    "Black Lives Matter ... simply can't seem to get past disruption and into policy changes and legislation": you can be accused of racism for that sort of remark.

  4. J K Brown:

    We saw an example of the desire to protest over making some impact on the problem with Ferguson. The Left protested the mayor, who was conveniently not a Democrat, and to a certain extent the city council. However, skipped over and barely reported is the reality that in Ferguson, since the Progressive era, the elected mayor and city council have little control over the police department or any city department. All the control rests with the "professional" city manager. They elected officials can only address their concerns to the city manager who has total control of the day to day operations and, subsequently, any racially impacting enforcement policies.

    But the BLM never went after the person with the power. Even after this city management relationship was written about by reporters seeking the real story.

  5. GoneWithTheWind:

    A policeman should be hired to protect and serve just as many of their police cars advertise on the side. Clearly there are policemen who are either unsuited for the job and should be fired when this is found out OR who over time develop that unsuitablity and should be fired or retired when this makes itself obvious. I have no doubt that the pressures of this job wear a good person down. The system/contracts should be designed to make this happen. No policeman should stay in that job after it is proved he acted in conflict to police department standards. But it shouldn't necessarily be adversarial. In other words it should be easier for the chief and the city to hire and fire and not require criminal charges or the equivalent. clearly the citizens deserve the best police officers that can be found.

    The problem is that police are required to be able to confront and control the worst of the worst. And as a general rule the kinds of people who can do this are big, strong, aggressive and intimidating. So there is a balance that needs to be struck and given the human element it will never be close to perfect. Probably the best cop, the cop who will save a citizen's life in a deadly situation is in reality a rough and tumble guy who sometimes uses excessive force.

  6. Nehemiah:

    BLM is not a force for good. They are anarchists seeking to destabilize society. Follow the money back to a primary source, George Soros. Out of chaos comes tyranny.

  7. Nehemiah:

    "...trash collectors are twice as likely to die on the job than police..."

    I think there is a difference in that trash collectors are not shot while they drive their route, they are not assassinated by a citizen who seeks retribution against garbage collectors. Police die due to accidents on the job as well. But they also die because of the criminals who seek retribution. That is not to say that some police actions are heavy handed and result in angering those they serve. However, the incidence of trash collector deaths versus police assassinations is apples and bananas.

  8. irandom419:

    I saw a PBS documentary about a cop so dangerous, they wouldn't let him patrol alone.

  9. Not Sure:

    "However, the incidence of trash collector deaths versus police assassinations is apples and bananas."

    Of course it is. But then, that wasn't what Coyote was comparing. His comparison was (and here's a reminder: "trash collectors are twice as likely to die on the job than police")... risk of death on the job.

  10. johnmoore:

    Speaking for the right: BS. We don't fetishize the police, but we do respect them.

    There is a growing movement on the right to end civil forfeiture - I hope that Sessions will listen. I have seen *zero* objection to police wearing body-cams, which is at sharp odds to your "fetishization" view.

    Have you ever taken a police ride-along? Phoenix offers those, and I'm sure PV does, although I haven't tried there. It is an educational process that might shift your view a little bit.

    The right that you often stereotype is not the right that I know. It is the right of 1955. Please, read modern conservative publications and you will see.

    That said, you are right about the unions. They need to go.

  11. Q46:

    Simple solution, privatise provision of police services then they will respond and be faithful to the hand that feeds them.. the public.

    The current notion of 'police' is relatively new, invented in the 1820s by Robert Peel in the UK... England managed over a thousand years without them.

    Prior to that there were various privately or community funded individuals and groups.

    Were there problems? Of course but like everything else, the State is not the only solution nor the best one.

    There are plenty of modern day examples of private police, gated communities, shopping malls, office blocks.

  12. JTW:

    criminals tend to have more money and other incentives to pay the police with than your law abiding citizen.
    And there's the problem with privatised police forces.

  13. JTW:

    in decades, I've never had a bad experience with cops. I've however had several runins with garbage collectors who treat their route as some sort of personal fiefdom, fining and refusing to empty bins when they think something is "poorly sorted for recycling" or bins are "too full" (a few millimeters under the rim, or just a tad heavier than average).
    Got worse and worse as all the recycling codes and requirements get ever stricter and they now see themselves as "guardians of the environment" through their "policing of recycling habbits".

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