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.
Here is a sample of the common provisions in these measures, which vary from state to state:
- In some jurisdictions, the officer may not be disciplined if more than a certain number of days (often 100) have passed since his alleged misconduct, which limits the time for investigation.
- Even if the officer is suspended, the department must continue to pay salary and benefits, as well as the cost of the officer’s attorney.
- If a department decides to pursue a complaint against an officer, the department must notify the officer and his union first, giving them advance time to get their story straight.
- The officer must be informed of the complainants, and their testimony against him, before he is questioned.
- During questioning, investigators may not harass, threaten, or promise rewards to the officer, as interrogators not infrequently do to civilian suspects.
- Bathroom breaks are assured during questioning.
- In Maryland, the officer may appeal his case to a “hearing board,” whose decision is binding, before a final decision has been made by his superiors about his discipline. The hearing board consists of three of the suspected offender’s fellow officers.
2. Police Contracts
Police contracts block accountability in a variety of ways. These include:
- Disqualifying misconduct complaints that are submitted too many days after an incident occurs or if an investigation takes too long to complete
- Preventing police officers from being interrogated immediately after being involved in an incident or otherwise restricting how, when, or where they can be interrogated
- Giving officers access to information that civilians do not get prior to being interrogated
- Requiring cities to pay costs related to police misconduct, including giving officers paid leave while under investigation, paying legal fees, and/or the cost of settlements
- Limiting disciplinary consequences for officers or limiting the capacity of civilian oversight structures and/or the media to hold police accountable.
The police union also prevents information on past misconduct investigations from being recorded or retained in an officer’s personnel file. This has the potential to allow police to perpetuate more atrocities; such was the case with officer Andrew Alatorre, who killed Salvador Palencia in 2014 and went on to kill Edwin Rodriguez almost two years later after the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office cleared him of criminal wrongdoing in Palencia’s murder.
3. Making Body Camera Video Off-Limits to the Public
While body cameras are often touted as the solution to police violence, we have seen that this is quite often not the case. Officers routinely leave their cameras off, and even when they are turned on police unions lobby to keep the footage private. In fact, in addition to numerous restrictions in municipalities and cities around the country, police union lobbying has led to at least six states passing laws exempting broad categories of body camera footage from public release. In Los Angeles, the first time body camera footage was EVER made available to the public was June of 2018.
What Is LA’s Police Union?
The Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) is a 501(c)(5) law enforcement union based in Los Angeles, California. The organization represents 9,900 sworn police officers in the Los Angeles Police Department. The organization began in 1922; Its total revenue in 2015 was $12,129,204 and expenses were $10,140,809. The LAPPL mission is to: vigilantly protect, promote, and improve the working conditions, legal rights, compensation, and benefits of Los Angeles Police Officers. It achieves this through a variety of ways including contract negotiations; legal representation for its members; assistance with workers’ comp claims; scholarship funding for members’ dependents; and an Annual College Day to “promote lifetime learning”.
LAPPL makes very clear their political stance and attitude toward the people of California. In an official statement on their website, the LAPPL scolds “many of our Democratic legislators” who “have let the state slump into one big homeless encampment and …are allowing criminal justice reform to be hijacked by left-wing activists for some sort of social engineering project.”
LAPPL Ballot History
The LAPPL supported and funded Measure C with $1 million. Using “activist” language around demanding transparency and accountability, the LAPPL pushed forward a ballot measure that aims to give LAPD officers guilty of serious misconduct the option of appealing this decision to a Board of Rights made up of three civilian members. Currently, the Board of Rights is comprised of two LAPD officers and one civilian. Although this measure claimed to increase civilian oversight, the “civilian members” of the Board of Rights are selected after a private interview with the Police Commission Executive Director and do not represent the interests of those communities most affected by policing. In fact, civilian members of the board tend to be the most lenient members. They consistently vote to overturn or lessen the disciplinary measures established by the chief. If they don’t vote this way, they are removed from the panel. Measure C was opposed by grassroots community groups, including ACLU, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, Community Coalition, Dignity and Power Now, Los Angeles Community Action Network, and more than 75 community organizations and civic groups (including the League of Women Voters and the LA Times).
In other ballot-related activities, in the November 2016 election, the LAPPL opposed Proposition 62, which repealed the death penalty, and they supported Proposition 1, which proposed providing public funding for elections by increasing lobbyist fees. They support an initiative that will be on the ballot in November 2020, the California criminal sentencing, parole, and DNA collection initiative. A yes vote would make specific types of crimes chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies rather than just misdemeanors. Additionally, persons convicted of certain misdemeanors and felonies would be required to submit a DNA sample for state and federal databases (Jerry Brown has said that the initiative is “the latest scare tactic on criminal justice reform.”)
On the candidate side, the national Fraternal Order of Police (of which the LAPPL is a member) endorsed Donald Trump for President in 2016, the same year that all three congresspeople endorsed by the LAPPL were Republicans, including noted racist and all-around regressive ghoul Steve Knight. However, the LAPPL is willing to make exceptions for exceptionally pro-police Democrats such as self-described “progressive prosecutor” Senator Kamala Harris, who was a guest of honor at an LAPPL fundraiser in 2013 when she was California Attorney General (and whose 2016 Senate candidacy was endorsed by the LAPPL).
The LAPPL’s nine-member Board of Directors includes:
- Craig Lally: Taunted Ezell Ford’s mother and a Black police commissioner. Lally is one of 44 “problem officers” according to the Christopher Commission.
- Steve Gordon: A SWAT Officer involved in multiple shootings of residents and has made excuses for officers who fail to turn on their body cameras.
- Mark Cronin: Against AB 953, a piece of legislation that attempts to collect demographic information and reason for stop from police officers during routine traffic encounters, because of its “administrative overload.” He also advises officers who are involved in shooting incidents to always say “no” to a voluntary statement.
- Hannu “TJ” Tarjamo: Displayed disdain for people expressing their first amendment rights.
- Lou Turriaga: Pushed back against the recommendations by the Police Commission to implement de-escalation techniques into the use-of-force policy. “Clearly this is not a collaborative process by the Police Commission,” he said. “We are very concerned that the recommendations as written may jeopardize officer and community safety. We’re afraid that this policy does not take into account the split-second, life-and-death decisions police officers must make in the field.” One could wonder what was going through Turriaga’s head when he made the split-second decision in 1992 to step on Rodney King’s head, and then drag his handcuffed body across the pavement.
- Corina Lee: testified in 2016 that preserving Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) was not a motive for her organization’s political contributions. This controversial retirement program was exposed in a recent LA Times article that it was wrought with fraudulent activities among participants.
- Additionally, former Board member Peter Repovich has a history of sexual assault and excessive force.
From its unmarked headquarters at 1308 W 8th Street, the Los Angeles Police Protective League affords police a “super protection” that private citizens don’t enjoy. Police unions are unlike other unions, operating with a level of power unheard of in other sectors. Police officers are shielded from the effects of their own misconduct, and there is no oversight or accountability in place that can match the power of that self-protection. The consequences of this are very often deadly. How can the public possibly counter this “protective” force when what is clearly needed is less police protection and more police accountability?
White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL) is a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). WP4BL is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles locally and the Movement for Black Lives nationally.