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April 25, 2024

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Let the Public Vote on Police Contracts

POSTED: May 27, 2021, 12:30 pm

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Police in America have been given special privileges not enjoyed by other citizens. As ‘public servants,’ police have been granted the right to kill. That is a right that no one else in our society possesses. Police are also almost always protected from bearing personal responsibility when they kill a civilian. Officers are shielded when they make ‘mistakes’ that alter the lives of citizens, such as raiding the wrong home, stopping a motorist without cause, physically injuring a civilian due to mistaken identity, and violating the rights of citizens by profiling individuals due to their race when detaining them. We have set up a system of non-negotiable power for law enforcement officers.

With each police shooting and killing of a Black person, the cries for reform grow louder. Still, the resistance hardens. Though the cry of ‘defund the police’ might be jarring for purists, it represents the accumulated frustration of a community that sees police as an occupying force. Our men and women in blue, even those that have Black skin, are not looked upon as an institution committed to ‘protect and serve’ but rather as a militia designed to ‘suppress and oppress.’ The simple sight of a police cruiser in the eyesight of a Black person is a cause of concern, worry and fear. This terror is unacceptable given that it is our tax dollars that are being used to fund police in our community. Like local school districts, police departments are the one institution that depends heavily upon local tax dollars to operate. In many communities, we are paying for vigilantes to prey upon us.

For all the reforms that are often mentioned as a way to improve policing, none really come close to eclipsing the power police have over citizens. Better training will not thwart the officer with evil intent in his heart. Changing the complexion of a police force may only change the hue of the officers who commit wrongful acts and violate the rights of civilians. Citizen review boards might drive the wrongdoing out of public sight if those boards are not given the power to investigate, subpoena and recommend prosecution. Ending the shield of ‘qualified immunity’ will only help if transparency and reporting of wrongful acts is incentivized. So, what do we do?

I think the answer is giving the power to the people. Police are enabled by their collective bargaining agreement. The negotiation of a police union contract is conducted in secrecy, with the public given little to no opportunity to weigh-in and express their opinions. These contracts serve as the basis for how police operate and are paid. It is time for the collective bargaining process to become transparent. Given the special powers afforded police, the public should have input into the terms of a police union’s contract and that contract should be subject to a vote of the local electorate. If the public is asked to fund policing, it should be allowed to make the decision on how those public tax dollars are used to reinforce public safety.

“Given the special powers afforded police, the public should have input into the terms of a police union’s contract and that contract should be subject to a vote of the local electorate”

Then there is the matter of police unions in America. While I believe in the right to collective bargaining to achieve a fair wage and benefits, it is the political activity of unions that allow police to exert undue influence over local communities. Police activity in local and state politics should be curbed. Since police unions collect dues from publicly paid employees, they should be prohibited from engaging in any form of political activity. That goes from endorsing candidates, producing political advertisements, and offering any form of financial assistance to a candidate. Since the views of police unions rarely align with the interests of Black and brown people, they should not be allowed to use the dollars of those civilians against them. It’s that simple. If we really want to defund the police, we have to defang police unions. For too long they have displayed criminal-like tendencies and showed no remorse when their members commit heinous crimes against Black and Latino civilians. The one way to change the narrative on policing is by muting the disproportionate voice police unions have in the public dialogue on policing.

The pubic must demand full accountability from law enforcement. This include defining the terms and ways by which civilians want to be policed. The sooner the public demands real systemic reform, the quicker we will see a decrease in the preying upon of Black and brown people by police.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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