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Police Unions

Police unions have become a major impediment to police accountability. Their impact is felt in three specific areas.

First, certain union contract provisions shield officers suspected or found guilty of misconduct from thorough investigation and discipline. Some union contracts provide for waiting periods (typically of 48 hours) before an officer has to answer questions from a supervisor. Some contracts allow officers to purge disciplinary actions from their personnel files afters 1, 3, or 5 years.

Second, police unions have been very active in local politics, opposing proposed police reforms such as citizen oversight or body cameras. They have been very successful in intimidating mayors and city council members by playing the “crime card,” arguing that any limits of police authority will cause crime to go up. Few mayors or city council members have been willing to challenge such allegations.

Third, some police union contracts do not allow officers suspected of misconduct to be interviewed by persons who are not sworn officers. This provision prevents a city or county from establishing an independent citizen review board which has the authority to conduct the initial complaint investigations.


Read Sam Walker’s article on the neglect of police unions by police scholars: unionrneglect

Visit the CheckthePolice web site and its compilation of police union contracts from across the country here.

Read Sam Walker’s report on the bogus “science” behind police union contract “waiting periods” for investigating officer misconduct: 48hourscience

Read Sam Walker’s report on how the Baltimore police union contract and the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights impede accountability: baltimore-police-union-contractfinal

Read Sam Walker and Kevin Keenan’s analysis of state law enforcement officers’ bills of rights: unionsleobors

Read the San Francisco Blue Ribbon Panel report on the role of the police union in impeding its investigation of the SSPD (Chapter 7): Read the report here.

Read The 2016 New Yorker article on police unions, in which Sam Walker explains the role of police unions in playing the “crime card” to prevent police reforms: policeunionsnewyorker