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.