“Police unions produce rules that protect bad actors”

A timely reminder [Ed Krayewski, Reason] Appallingly, some unions have won provisions forbidding authorities from interviewing an officer charged with misconduct until days after an incident, which means a lawyered-up officer can, if so inclined, hold back from committing to a story until it becomes clearer what story is convenient. Krayewski:

Whether Ferguson’s police chief or mayor are actually interested in firing this cop is hardly known. But in the current situation, their hands are tied by an intricate system of legal protections built for cops around the country. Firing Michael Brown’s killer would not make him guilty of murder. That’s what jury trials are for in this free country. But cops, who are authorized by the government to use violence to attain their goals, ought to be held to a higher standard than everyday criminals, not lower ones. A job is a privilege, not a right.

We’ve run many items over the years on this theme, including: Connecticut officer reinstated with back pay after “covering up a hit and run crash involving a fellow officer [she] was involved in a relationship with,” and police union “defends Denver cop fired for driving drunk at 143 mph”; union saves job of officer who planted white powder on suspect in a drug arrest, also in Connecticut; the comprehensively bad “Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights” package enacted in many states; etc. And closely related, from Ken White at Popehat: “Don’t Give Special Rights To Anybody! Oh, Except Cops. That’s Cool”; J.D. Tuccille, Reason.


  • All groups that form to protect the rights of their members inevitably wind up protecting the unworthy as well as the worthy.


  • Er, there’s that Fifth Amendment thing, isn’t there? Or perhaps I’ve overlooked an exception that applies when police officers are being investigated for a possible crime.

  • Sarcasm is misplaced. The Fifth Amendment provides that no one “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” It does not provide that either public or private employees may without fear of job consequences refuse to answer job-related questions from their employers on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate themselves. If the courts were so imprudent as to have interpreted the Fifth Amendment that way the police union wouldn’t have needed to obtain the concession by contract negotiation, and of course its effects would not be merely temporary: the department would be permanently barred from demanding an answer from the officer as to why he shot the citizen.

  • There’s also the guy who pepper-sprayed a bunch of students at UC Davis; the union went to the mattresses to stop him being fired (the issue ended up in trial with a deadlocked jury, after which the President of the UC specifically ordered the firing) and he got $38,000 in workers’ compensation for “bad feelings” stemming from the incident.

  • My rather low opinion of police unions would improve if they threatened to refuse to go into racially tense neighborhoods without dashboard cameras and body cameras. But, in a blatant conflict of interest between honest cops and bad apples, I am not sure that the honest cop interests would prevail.

  • George,

    Generally compelled statements cannot be used against the officer in criminal proceedings. Therefore, the public employer may require a statement, but that statement is not available for use by criminal investigators. Of course, such evidence can be used for impeachment but then so can almost any other statement obtained in violation of the witness’ constitutional rights. No reason to treat law enforcement differently.