“Legally, unions are responsible for representing their members,” Booker Hodges, a former Minnestota police officer who now works as an assistant commissioner for the state’s Department of Public Safety, wrote in a 2018 blog post on Police One. “The public seems to support this premise when it concerns other labor unions, but not those who represent police officers. Even members of other labor unions, particularly those who belong to educator unions, don’t seem to support this premise when it comes to police unions. Many of them have taken to the streets to protest against police officers, criticized police unions for defending their members and called for an end of binding arbitration for police officers.”
It’s also not as though the police unions’ leaders are taking any pains to show solidarity, or even sympathy, with their fellow workers. Rather, police unions have a long, wretched history of doing exactly the opposite: playing on public fears and misconceptions to push damaging “no angel” narratives about the victims of police violence, while also howling about the “bravery” and “sacrifice” their employees make to “protect” fellow citizens.
For example, on its official website, the IUPA linked to a May 27 Police magazine article that characterized George Floyd’s killing as “the death of a suspect during an arrest in which a Minneapolis officer put his knee on the back of the man’s neck to pin him to the ground.” This was a naked attempt to mislead readers and convince them that Chauvin has to be categorically innocent. It’s also in keeping with the “thin blue line” model of deference to the life-and-death authority granted by reflex to most municipal cops: The law enforcement community—and especially its unions’—first response, when one of its officers is caught red-handed, is to circle the wagons, vilify the victim or survivor, and bat away any criticism or dissent as virtual sedition. If and when reforms are introduced in the wake of an abuse of police powers, police and their unions remain in wagon-circling mode, determined to shoot them down. The bottom line here is all too plain: The police do not want reform; they want the freedom to operate with impunity.