The following section is adapted from a resource provided through the Showing Up for Racial Justice network. This information focuses on police unions nationally, and the similarities in aims, impact, power, and the function that police unions serve to prevent accountability and transparency when law enforcement commits acts of misconduct, including officer involved shootings.
Police Unions & Their Blue Wall of Silence
Police unions create a Blue Wall of Silence to defend and obscure police misconduct — including domestic violence committed by cops against their own spouses. Instead of using their collective power for good, as labor unions were created to do, they lobby and finance elected officials to shield police misconduct and bully those cops willing to speak the truth into backing down. They’re the secret society that allows police to kill with impunity — and there is no institution that can presently counter this degree of power. Prosecution is incredibly rare.
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the nation’s largest police association (with more than 300,0000 members in its 2,000 or so local chapters), doesn’t fit the typical description of a labor union. As explained by Paul Butler in his article “The Fraternal Order of Police Must Go”, some of its chapters are unions but others are just fraternal organizations. He also notes that at the time of his writing in 2017, the FOP’s national leadership consisted of seven white men despite 30% of its members being people of color.
There are three main things police unions actively promote that help shield violent and murderous officers from accountability: Police Bill of Rights Laws, Police Contracts That Prevent Justice, and Making Body Camera Video Off-Limits to the Public.
1. Police Bill of Rights Laws
Police Bill of Rights (or “Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights”) are typically the original U.S. Bill of Rights with an upgrade: They assure police officers treatment far superior to what their suspects. LEOBRs make it almost impossible to discipline or remove bad officers, even after they have been convicted of felonies in the courts. Under LEOBRs, officers are judged only by other officers, a clear conflict of interest. LEOBRs even prevent the formation of civilian review boards that give civilians oversight of police actions.
LEOBRs have been implemented in 15 states, and police unions are lobbying for them in 12 more. In addition to California, these include Maryland (Freddie Gray), Illinois (Laquan MacDonald), Minnesota (Philando Castile), and Louisiana (Alton Sterling). Louisiana’s police union even got “police” added as a protected class under the state’s hate crimes law, even though police already have special protection: if you assault a civilian the charge is simple battery, but if you assault a cop the charge is enhanced felony assault on an officer. Other states with LEOBRs are Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
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