United States (TFC)- There are many discussions being had these days about police accountability, body cameras, and citizen review boards. The common man has accepted that the system itself is not going to swoop in and put an end to the police abuse and other crimes they seem to be committing all too frequently these days. A bone has been thrown to the people with all the recent talks of departments making body cameras mandatory. While on the surface that seems to be a step in the right direction, I think we can look only to the hundreds of videos of police brutality and murder that go without accountability. The crimes committed by police have victims, video evidence documenting the crime, laws that specify the acts as crimes and public support to have that officer fired and charged. By doing a little bit of research as to the results of all this evidence, we are stunned to find how many officers had their charges dropped, dismissed, or in many cases were not even charged. These officers are still on duty as if nothing happened. In cases where they did actually get fired, many were simply rehired. How could this happen when the evidence is irrefutable? Let’s take a look at two officers out of Oakland, California. These cases were taken from an article titled “How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Abusive Cops On The Streets” published by The Atlantic in December of last year. The outcome of the officer’s crimes in these cases is on repeat throughout departments all across America.
Hector Jimenez is one Oakland policeman who was fired and reinstated. In 2007, he shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old man. Just seven months later, he killed another unarmed man, shooting him three times in the back as he ran away. Oakland paid a $650,000 settlement to the dead man’s family in a lawsuit and fired Jimenez, who appealed through his police union. Despite killing two unarmed men and costing taxpayers all that money, he was reinstated and given back pay.
Another Oakland police officer, Robert Roche, was present at the 2011 Occupy protest where Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, a protester, was shot in the head with a lead-filled beanbag, fracturing his skull and causing brain damage. After Olsen collapsed onto the asphalt, a group of fellow protesters quickly gathered around to help the wounded man. That’s when Roche tossed a flash grenade in their midst. These two cases mirror the majority of cases where the police are the defendants. The rightfully terminated cop gets their jobs back. All this being made possible by one seemingly all powerful untouchable organization known as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). The outrage the public feels in cases like these and the countless others we do not hear about, is understandable. They always seem to yield no results, no real changes and ultimately no justice for the victims. So let’s take a look at the ripple effect these unions are having on our departments, communities and courts all across our country. Here’s the ultimate problem and the path to pulling the reins back on police abuse, corruption, and the lack of accountability.
In 1974 a bill was set forth known as the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEBOR) that provides officer’s special protection and procedures specific to them that we, as the public, do not receive during an investigation. Although most states have different versions written into their statutes, we will be using LEBOR as detailed by the Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. First a complaint is filed against an officer then the department determines whether or not it’s worth pursuing. Hundreds of complaints pour into departments every year with about 90 percent of them being dismissed. Few end up being forwarded to Internal Affairs (IA). While complaints such as excessive force, illegal search and seizure and false arrest do at least get looked at. The more minor complaints that are the true reflections of the day to day attitudes and interactions with the average citizen rarely get addressed. If so, the result is usually a verbal warning. Some are serious enough to put a mark on the officer’s personal file but those files are rarely reviewed by the hiring departments clearly proven in the Cleveland, Ohio case involving Timothy Loehmann.
Let’s say that the complaint has some validity and now gets forwarded to IA. Keep in mind under union contracts, the IA department is most often comprised of fellow officers. Once again another avenue the police unions have infiltrated in order to protect their own. The officer and his union are notified there is an investigation. While under investigation and during interrogation the LEBOR special privileges kick in. The officer has a cooling off period before they are questioned. Only one interrogator is allowed to question at a time. The standard techniques during questioning such as threats, harassment and/or incentive are not used on the officer. The length of time for interrogation must be reasonable and preferably while the officer is on duty as to not disrupt their daily life off the clock. If the officer is under investigation they often receive paid leave or desk duty. If they receive paid leave, the tax payer is then responsible for the cost of the leave and now the cost of having an officer take his place. There is also the cost of settling civil suits. Joanna Schwartz, a UCLA law professor published a study last year called “Police Indemnification”. Her study surveyed settlements from 44 of the largest police departments in the country, and found that tax payers paid nearly $730 million to victims of police civil rights violations from 2006 to 2011. These are just a few examples of how the FOP and the LEBOR grants special rights to officers. The union’s involvement in every step of the process creates difficult and costly road blocks for any Chief that actually decides to bring accountability to his department.
Every so often a chief steps up and finds the courage to buck the all-powerful Unions and rightfully terminate an officer. At this point the officers appeal their cases to state arbitrators, civil boards and/or civilian commissions. These boards are often comprised of or highly influenced by the unions. So, once again, the unions are preventing accountability where it is being perused. Using Philadelphia as a prime example, nine out of ten cops fired by the police chief are reinstated by an outside arbitrator. As a police chief you realize more than likely your efforts to bring integrity, accountability and discipline to your department will be fought every step of the way. If an officer finds himself in a courtroom due to the charges we, once again, have the union influence following the officer all the way to the top. The states attorneys and judges already have the influence of siding with “their team”. Now add the political influence the unions have and the money to back it, citizens have little chance for justice to ever be served.
As you can see, the FOP literally has a monopoly on justice. We fault, attack and peruse the individual officers when they commit these crimes. That is appropriate but we are overlooking the very authority that is giving them this imperviable shield to abuse without repercussion. Thanks to the police unions, our officers do not get the benefit of behavior modification when needed. They are taught they are always right and their abuse is consistently justified. They have a large safety net to protect and enable them to continue their bad behavior. While many police appreciate this net, I think they are overlooking why discipline is a good thing and not a bad thing. Thanks to the thousands of officers a year that commit unspeakable crimes and get away with it, the public now views all cops as threats. The cases of citizens in the past few years who have killed random police out of hatred and frustration is a clear indication of what those “special benefits” have actually brought to law enforcement as a whole. The public has lost respect for the cops. When the public sees them as no more than arrogant bullies with “rich daddy” syndrome, the resentment will fester as it has been.
We often here the whole damn system is guilty as hell. In the case of the overly corrupt police force we can clearly find the cause of this ripple effect leading primarily back to the FOP. That is where we need to start directing our actions and voices. We need to give power back to the police chiefs to be able to actually control their department. This cannot be done without doing something about the unions. If you are truly about seeking change and justice in our police force, there is your answer.