Why Conservatives And Liberals Both Let Police Unions Get Away With Stuff

No one holds police unions accountable because conservatives like police and liberals like unions

I created this hypothesis while observing the events unfolding in my city of St. Louis late last year. I learned that the head of the local police union was a former officer who was fired from a nearby district for falsifying police reports! To me, this looked like classic corruption. The newspapers kept quoting the man about ongoing developments, yet few seemed to question his past.

I found it amusing to think about how well many conservatives can expound upon the problems of teachers unions protecting bad teachers while remaining completely silent about the potential for police unions to protect bad cops. Perhaps it is the loudest and most extreme criticisms from some liberals which provokes this defensive blind spot; it would likely be easy to reverse roles and find similar blind spots in the other direction.

The unfolding events in New York City have me considering this hypothesis further.

Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who brought Eric Garner to the ground in a chokehold, was previously involved in a lawsuit for strip searching a couple African American men. The claims are denied, but the charges against the men were dropped and they got paid instead. Maybe there’s some defense to be made (overly litigious society, etc) but this sort of thing seems to happen a lot, and my unenlightened conclusion is that you only want to hand out money to avoid a trial if you think you might lose the trial. One of the side effects seems to be that the officer is less likely to receive consequences. Normally, incentives would induce the organization to remove officers who become too litigiously costly. Is there a union element standing in the way?

We have seen actions that appear consistent with an organization reflexively resistant to criticism. After Eric Garner, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio made remarks that to my ears were markedly moderate. To the NYPD’s ears, biased by previous developments, the mayor has two murdered officers’ “blood on his hands,” and they’ve taken to turning their backs on him at the officers’ funerals, even against the request of their own police commissioner and the officers’ own wives.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani gets on TV and explains that this is all happening because the mayor “created an impression with the police that he was on the side of the protesters.” Giuliani even admits that “some of those protesters were entirely legitimate,” but when you live in False Choice land, if you don’t align yourself clearly enough with one side then you clearly must be “on” the other “side.”

Frustratingly, the False Choicers are the ones who, with a Smart-People-esque confidence, get to decide how you are aligned. They can even complain that you should “have said” less-outrageous more-on-my-side things that you actually did say but that they maybe didn’t hear due to the biases and discincentives of information flow about things that they and their information flow network consider outrageous/non-outrageous.

Maybe a skeptic would argue that none of this has anything to do with unions. At a minimum I feel like there’s enough circumstantial evidence that I wish more people seemed to care more about looking more into it.

Since you can’t criticize police unions without questioning police, to conservatives this smells too much like the people yelling death threats, and they reflexively block it off. I suspect something similar is at work with liberals and the conservative distaste of unions. Thus both sides develop blind spots against an organization they would otherwise be quick to criticize. Thus the unions are free to protect their members from the accountability they would otherwise receive, while the distracted demagoguery continues…