Over the past five years, as demands for reform have mounted in the aftermath of police violence in cities like Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and now Minneapolis, police unions have emerged as one of the most significant roadblocks to change. The greater the political pressure for reform, the more defiant the unions often are in resisting it — with few city officials, including liberal leaders, able to overcome their opposition.
They aggressively protect the rights of members accused of misconduct, often in arbitration hearings that they have battled to keep behind closed doors. And they have also been remarkably effective at fending off broader change, using their political clout and influence to derail efforts to increase accountability.
While rates of union membership have dropped by half nationally since the early 1980s, to 10 percent, higher membership rates among police unions give them resources they can spend on campaigns and litigation to block reform. A single New York City police union has spent more than $1 million on state and local races since 2014.
It remains to be seen how the unions will respond to reform initiatives by cities and states since Mr. Floyd’s death, including a new ban on chokeholds in Minneapolis. But in recent days, unions have continued to show solidarity with officers accused of abusive behavior.
The president of a police union in Buffalo said the union stood “100 percent” behind two officers who were suspended on Thursday after appearing to push an older man who fell and suffered head injuries. The union president said the officers “were simply following orders.”
All 57 officers on the Emergency Response Team, a special squad formed to respond to riots, had resigned from their posts on the team in support of the suspended officers, according to The Buffalo News.Open Secrets:
Since the 1994 election cycle, 55 police union and law enforcement PACs have donated over $1.1 million to congressional campaigns, more than a third of which has gone to current members of congress. Funds spread to both sides of the aisle, especially to those in prominent positions and with influence in the House Law Enforcement Caucus. Another $9 million in itemized contributions come from those listing current or retired law enforcement positions as their profession since 1990.