Research Paper Links Police Unions To Increased Officer Misconduct

from the more-rights,-more-problems dept

Some research [PDF] has emerged indicating handing officers extra rights results in more citizen complaints. This may seem to be of the “water is wet” research variety, but there’s no reason to shrug this off. While most of us can infer that shielding officers from the consequences of their actions would naturally result in increased misconduct, almost all evidence to date has been anecdotal. (h/t Marginal Revolution)

University of Chicago researchers were given the perfect chance to weigh the addition of a collective bargaining agreement against year-to-year complaint totals. Thanks to a 2003 Florida state supreme court decision, Florida sheriff’s deputies were allowed to unionize, finally joining their police department counterparts. This gave the researchers a dividing line for a before and after comparison. The results were unsurprising.

We construct a comprehensive panel dataset of Florida law enforcement agencies starting in 1997, and employ a difference-in-difference approach that compares sheriffs’ offices and police departments before and after Williams. Our primary result is that collective bargaining rights lead to about a 27% increase in complaints of officer misconduct for the typical sheriff’s office.

That’s an impressive jump and it can be tied to the addition of a collective bargaining agreement. The union’s bargaining power secured a lengthy list of extra rights for deputies. While due process should be afforded to everyone, the version of due process citizens make do with contains none of these perks and protections.

[F]lorida provides by statute a Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights (“LEOBOR”), which includes a variety of procedural protections for officers facing disciplinary investigations. One provision gives such an officer the right to “be informed of the nature of the investigation before any interrogation begins,” and to receive “all witness statements . . . and all other existing evidence, including, but not limited to, incident reports, GPS locator information, and audio or video recordings relating to the incident under investigation, . . . before the beginning of any investigative interview of that officer” (F.S.A§ 112.532(1)(d)). That is particularly generous given another requirement that “[a]ll identifiable witnesses shall be interviewed, whenever possible, prior to the beginning of the investigative interview of the accused officer” (id.).

And that’s not even the whole list of additional “due process” goodies Florida deputies received.

[S]ome Florida CBAs give law enforcement officers the right to challenge any discipline the local government seeks to impose through arbitration or other administrative review, thus depriving the government of the power to make independent disciplinary decisions. Other rights include a time limitation on internal disciplinary investigations, expungement of old records even when the officer is found to have engaged in misconduct, and inspection of investigation files prior to a disciplinary hearing… [A]ll of these additional procedural rights raise the cost of terminating misbehaving officers and thereby lower deterrence.

The researchers note the conclusions aren’t definitive. There’s no control group to observe and it’s tempting to let correlation infer causation. But the research is as thorough as it can be, given the limited dataset. Law enforcement agencies closely guard internal documents on police misconduct. In some states, public records laws make it illegal to release any of these files to the public, forcing researchers to work blind.

But this paper does show there’s something wrong with union agreements and has the math to back up the seemingly obvious conclusions. When you give people with power more power and less accountability, abuse is usually the result. Whether the union agreements are responsible for all of the 27% jump in complaints is debatable, but the numbers show the agreements have made policing worse, rather than better.

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Comments on “Research Paper Links Police Unions To Increased Officer Misconduct”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And therein lays the problem

Collective bargaining in the public sector gives law enforcement (amongst other public employees) greater rights than their employers, the citizens of those respective communities. There should be no greater rights. Those individuals should be subject to exactly the same pernicious rules as the rest of us. Don’t like pernicious? There are legislatures for that.

They seem to think themselves as persecuted, when accused of wrong doing. How do they think citizens who are actually innocent of wronging, yet are accused, shackled, hauled into jail (and possibly abused) to await the system to prove them innocent, rather than being presumed innocent until proven guilty. While not a constitutional right, it is widely regarded as the defacto right of the accused, and in many states is actually the law.

Does the fact that they belong to some union make them above the laws and procedures the rest of us have to follow? Or is it just their imperious attitude that has over time been ensconced in collective bargaining agreements that never should have been allowed in the first place.

Maybe we should form a non public employees union that gives us greater rights than those assumed by members of public employee unions? Would that get us anywhere? If not, they why does the membership in a public employee union get them somewhere?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

In other news… water wet, fire hot.

These poor put upon civil servants who can shoot a 12 yr old in 3 seconds, handcuff an 8 yr old, shoot someone who dared tap on their window, chase someone who told him to fuck off into his home…. no longer have to count on the just courts turning a blind eye to their bad acts & attempts to hide the long list of rights violations, settlements, etc. in the officers history.

Now we have police unions, who speak with authority!
They will be the first to jump at the chance to find a way to claim Off. Dufus’s heart attack was an attack by a secret cabal in the war on cops & just as fast jump to find anything to discredit someone who got a bullet in the head b/c a car backfired.

Don’t worry if the Chief fires you, we got your back. We have forced arbitration and you’ll be back with back pay in no time. You can’t be held accountable for violating citizens rights, so shop that warrant in 3 counties to force a colonoscopy to find those drugs you imagine are in that citizens asshole. Don’t worry we’ll protect you & make sure that idiot has to pay for the privilege of being forced to shit in front of you, multiple enemas, and then sedated & probed against his will!

Why does a group who can claim to be terrified for their life by someone doing a wheelie on a motorcycle facing away from them, need a union to fight their battle?
Why do we think they are held to a higher standard when they are far to often given a pass for being ignorant of the law?

Cop unions seem to exist to enrich themselves, keep bad cops on the job, & claim its because citizens have declared war on them. How can you feel safe when the people paid to protect you are fucking terrified of you & will shoot you if you spook them?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Can't say I'm surprised

Disgusted and disappointed, yes, surprised no.

When you’ve got a group that is dedicated to covering your ass no matter what, and significant rules making any punishments much less likely, such that you know you can get away with a lot more, it’s not unexpected that those who were only being ‘good’ because they worried about what would happen if they got caught would suddenly decide to stop pretending.

What makes it even worse is that unless the departments studied magically hired a bunch of rotten cops at the same time as they unionized, it’s pretty much a given that this is how the sheriffs involved would have been acting the entire time. They were always this bad, they just didn’t feel the need to keep up the charade after the union and rules change.

David says:

Cause and effect much?

Of course are unions are there for covering your back, and of course those who know they are overstepping lines are more inclined to pay for that extra cover.

With any insurance scheme, you’ll find people are more inclined to engage it when they are more likely to need it.

That does not make unions bad nor does it make a general statement about union members.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

What are you wibbling on about? Expanding Medicare doesn’t mean the Government runs all of healthcare, there would still be a private sector as there is over here. Go on, look up “Private healthcare UK.” Let me know how you get on.

As for “taking guns away from people” what we want to do is restrict them to sane, law-abiding people. What exactly is wrong with that?


Re: Re: Rudderless drifting.

Expanding Medicare doesn’t mean the Government runs all of healthcare

The government sets prices and determines coverage. This is close enough to “running things” if your life is on the line. Clearly you can’t relate.

> would still be a private sector as there is over here. Go on, look up “Private healthcare UK.”

You mean you get to pay “out of pocket” for heart surgery when you’ve been sitting on a waiting list for 6 months? That’s not exactly something to brag about. Although it certainly beats the Canadian version.

You can’t trust government to feed people, but you want them to have total control of my cancer treatment. You can’t trust cops to not murder citizens but you also want to disarm all of us. Those positions are inherently contradictory.

Pick a set of guiding principles and actually apply them.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 You can't trust cops to not murder citizens but you also want to disarm all of us.

That’s because they probably still train their police the way ours USED to be trained. I’ve talked with older, retired police who maybe DREW their weapon ONCE their entire career (excepting the shooting range). They were trained in how to DEAL with people OTHER than shooting them. These days, it seems most police training is to go in, guns blazing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Rudderless drifting.

It’s not a zero sum game, you know.

The government sets prices and determines coverage.

Citation? I thought insurance companies did that, hence the government requirement to cover pre-existing conditions.

You mean you get to pay "out of pocket" for heart surgery when you’ve been sitting on a waiting list for 6 months?

Paying out of pocket is a choice, not a necessity. In any case urgent cases are seen much sooner. The NHS is being underfunded and systematically dismantled by our right wing government. Privatization is already resulting in shortages since healthcare turns out to not be a commodity after all.

You can’t trust government to feed people, but you want them to have total control of my cancer treatment. You can’t trust cops to not murder citizens but you also want to disarm all of us. Those positions are inherently contradictory.

The farmer wants his straw back, the animals are cold.

Anonymous Coward says:

Unions were originally formed to protect workers from unsafe work places and sweat shops. That was back in the late 1700s. It appears to me that unions now exist only to collect the dues from it’s members to be able to donate to political parties/causes. Follow the $$ “Qui Bono” If someone is an union member and paying dues then it is in the best interest of the union to keep that member employed so as to collect those dues.

As long as the union is making those contributions to X,Y, or Z it’s in X,Y, and Z’s interest to protect the unions. As long as X, Y, and Z protect the unions it’s in the union members interest to support X,Y, and Z. The circle is closed. It’s just one big mutual masturbatory loop of members, union officials and XYZ.

Little bit of example. My father owned and ran a small precision machine shop. GM approached him to help them out with a part for the A/C units in there vehicles. Seems they were missing production quotas because of a high scrap rate (parts that didn’t meet specs ). They let a contract and my father’s shop met the quota with a near non existent scrap rate. The union got wind of it and forced GM to open another shift to make the parts in house to meet production demands. So GM could not re new the contract which was for x number of parts, had to run another shift with that added expense, and eat the cost of scrap ( my father ate the cost any parts that were scrapped).

Not sure how unions currently do anything but feather their own nests.

It looks like LEOs now are pretty much like our elected government, laws and rules apply to everyone but them. They get to make their own. Much like healthcare.

Anonymous Coward says:

Nice article! But, Tim, you didn’t quite explain the paper well enough judging by the comments here.

Florida *Police Officers* have had the ability to unionize and form collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) for a while.

Florida *Sheriff Deputies* have had the ability to unionize but due to a silly state law were unable to form CBAs — this had the effect of suppressing union membership since they were much less effective and Florida is a right to work state. In 2003 this changed when Florida courts said the Florida constitution gave the sheriff deputies the right to CBAs.

The Florida Police Offices acted as a quasi-control for the Florida Sheriff Deputies and the authors tracked the number of serious complaints against each of them from 1997 to present. They note an important date in the tracking is 2011 when Florida courts decided that the body in charge of determining arbitration for sheriff deputy punishments was the County Commissioner’s office not the County Sheriff.

The authors do note some limitations on their study:
– number of complaints is a substitution marker for counting number of misdeeds ( it has a problem of false accusations and lack of reporting )
– other effects could be causing an increase in number of complaints (such as a more transparent complaint mechanism, the internet makes it easier to lodge a complaint/get advice, etc)
– an increase in population makes complaints more likely (in particular, we would expect the number of complaints to rise approximately with the square of the population density). I’m not sure if the authors controlled for this since their paper is in its initial form with no graphs and reads like a wall of text.

But that’s my two cents.

AC says:

Most cops are criminals. I remember when I was doing security patrol and we had an alarm at a building store. Well the cops showed up and decided it would be best to go in. We watched them fill their pockets with loot, they stole right in front of us, did not care and told us we should get something as well, better to not go away empty handed according to them.

Give the cops more rights and they will start executing people on the street with no judge or jury, and they will be found innocent due to the rights they get that the public does not get.

Anonymous Coward says:

All police are corrupt!! They all LIE!!! I’m watching one after another on Youtube lying like crazy. making up B.S. laws to try and get what they want out of you. The so-called Good police that stands there and just let it happen makes them just as guilty. It’s all about that f’in Blue Line!!!!

I’ve been saying for years, it’s the UNIONS that are making so many bad police. They’re all protected. They can go to the wrong house for a so-called drug raid, wake you up in bed and then shoot you and kill you, and end the end go OPS, and get off Scott free. Yet another reason to end the WAR ON DRUGS!!!

The police are a bunch of scaredy cats and so will shoot first and ask questions later. You watch them. They all have their hands resting on their guns. Go watch them as they stand in place, hand on gun. They’ll attack you for having a Camera on the sidewalk recording. Which is a constitutionally protected act.

The police are out of control these days.

dcfusor (profile) says:

Unions...don't get me started. Look at this guy:

“The deputy taking a position outside the Western side of Building 12 while shots rang out, “and he never went in” despite having a clear view of the entrance.
Scott Peterson, was been suspended without pay pending an investigation, according to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel – however he has since resigned and retired from the department.””” (With FULL Pension)
There Are No Words For This… None… 

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