Just as in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, our current focus on police misconduct and systemic racism in policing has everything we thought we knew seemingly reversed. The two major political parties have switched sides in their long-held stances on unions.
On the left, they have fully embraced the broader talking points raised by the protestors’ rallying cry to “defund the police.” As I have discussed previously, those broader points are more accurately described as a police reform movement, not a total abolition of policing in America.
But the root cause of much of what the “defund” crowd takes issue with was wrought by strong police unions. The oft-cited success of Camden, NJ to abolish their police department—when you look a little deeper was only a success in that it broke the stranglehold the police union had on the city. The union was protecting sub-par and overpaid cops.
In reality, Camden didn’t abolish their police department. Actually, there are more than double the cops on the streets of Camden today than there were when they shut down their police department. What Camden’s leaders did was merely to shut down the existing city-run police department and form a new county-run police department, and rehired at least 100 of their former ranks right back. For most of the cops working in Camden, the only change was the patch on their sleeve.
However, by dissolving the city police department they were able to destroy the collective bargaining agreement in place with the police union and rid themselves of police officers that weren’t performing to the standards but that were protected by the union.
Looking at the issue from that angle, its quite striking that the solidly Democratic Camden politicians moved decisively to weaken one of the strongest public-sector unions in New Jersey, the Fraternal Order of Police. Democratic politicians have long fed at the trough of public-sector union largess and no trough in NJ is as bountiful as the State PBA and State FOP.
But the Democrats aren’t the only ones betraying their long-held positions on public-sector unions in this debate. On the Republican side, life-long critics of public-sector unions (especially when it comes to teacher’s unions) have taken up the pro-labor mantle abdicated by the left.
The knee-jerk reaction by Republicans to defend sub-par public employees in an effort to prove their law and order bona fides is puzzling to say the least.
For as long as I can remember, Republicans have dined out on criticizing failing teachers who are being protected from being fired by tenure. But because they are pro law and order, they support tenure-like protections built into collective bargaining agreements for police unions that make firing substandard cops just as difficult as firing a tenured teacher.
Republicans also oppose recently proposed legislation to end the court-invented protections afforded to police by qualified immunity. In any other time, or in any other context, Republicans would lean on their typical talking points about legislating from the bench and rail on about judicial overreach. However on qualified immunity, they are mum and multiple proposals being floated in the House to do away with that judicial legislation are dead letters in the Senate.
As with Alice when she went through the looking-glass, on police reform, up is down, right is left, and left is right.
2020 is a strange year indeed. As Dr. Peter Venkmen says in Ghostbusters, “we are headed for a disaster of biblical proportions. Dogs and Cats living together; mass hysteria!” Our best move at this moment is to keep our minds blank. The last thing we need after a pandemic, economic collapse, murder hornets, and politicians flipping long standing positions on labor on their heads is the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!