The establishment of duty-to-bargain requirements with police unions correlates with the increase in the number of non-white Americans killed by law enforcement, according to a paper published last month as part of the IZA Institute of Labor Economics’ Discussion Paper Series.
In fact, the introduction of collective bargaining rights accounts for roughly 10 percent of the total non-white, officer-involved deaths from 1959 to 1988, write the paper’s authors, Jamein Cunningham, Donna Feir and Rob Gillezeau.
“Our results are consistent with the popular notion that law enforcement unions exacerbate police violence against civilians,” the authors concluded.
Not only do duty-to-bargain requirements increase civilian deaths, but they also further the discriminatory use of police force ― as evidenced by the fact that the number of officer-involved killings of white civilians did not increase following the adoption of collective bargaining rights.
This renders police officers more likely to shoot at and commit other acts of violence against Black and brown individuals.
Cunningham, Feir, and Gillezeau drew from a range of data sources: a database on the introduction of collective bargaining rights for different groups of public sector workers between 1959 and 1979; the Vital Statistics Multiple-Cause of Death File, which features all civilian deaths at the hands of police between 1959 and 1988; the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Data, which provides statistics on crime and police employment rates; and the County and City Databooks 1944-1977, which offers information on a host of demographic variables.
The authors’ results withstood several controls, robustness checks, and specifications tests – two of which were the timing and location at which law enforcement officials were given collective bargaining rights.
The authors offer one explanation for the link between collective bargaining rights and non-white civilian deaths: the protections provided for police misbehavior in collective bargaining agreements limit accountability for their actions.
“Police unions and the collective bargaining process may affect police killings of civilians by shifting individual incentives for officers, including the likelihood that they will be prosecuted and convicted for potentially unjustified killings of civilians,” the paper says.
“This shift in incentives may occur through a number of channels, including legal and financial aid, professionalized communications support, direct influence on the investigative process itself, and broader protective legislative changes.”
According to the paper, the number of people killed by police increased by more than 53 percent between 1960 and 1975.
Although this increase has since reached a plateau, there remain more officer-involved killings today than in the 1950s and 1960s.
Worse, the authors explain that the victims of officer-involved shootings are disproportionately young, Black, and/or Indigenous males.
Upon further data analysis, the paper’s authors specified that police violence against citizens is affected only slightly within one to three years of the establishment of duty-to-bargain requirements.
This time period is roughly how long it takes for a union to form and negotiate its first contract, according to the paper.
However, over the medium and long terms, the number of officer-involved killings increases drastically – again disproportionately affecting non-white individuals.
Of note is that while the authors documented a rise in civilian deaths following the introduction of collective bargaining rights, they found no such increase in officer deaths.
Moreover, total reported crime, violent crime, and property crime rates remained the same after the adoption of duty to bargain requirements.
Findings like these, according to the authors’ analysis, “[point] to a particularly discouraging scenario where policing itself is becoming no safer even while more civilians are killed in the law enforcement process.”
Lastly, a confluence of statistical factors – namely, the robustness of the findings – led the authors to characterize the relationship between collective bargaining rights and non-white, officer-involved deaths as “causal.”
Going forward, Cunningham, Feir and Gillezeau recommend that law enforcement unions place a high premium on public safety, especially the safety of non-white individuals, in their collective bargaining and internal communications.
However, the authors note that doing so would be “conservative” – that is, a more minor reform than their findings would warrant.
Editor’s Note: For additional information on policing and police unions, please see The Crime Report’s resource page on “Policing.”
See also: “NY Police Union Private Defense Funded by Taxpayers,” by TCR Staff, The Crime Report, March 26, 2021.
Jamein Cunningham is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Memphis, Donna Feir is a research economist with the Center for Indian Country Development with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and Rob Gillezeau is an assistant professor of economics at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.
The full paper can be accessed here.
This summary was prepared by TCR Contributing Writer Michael Gelb. Michael welcomes comments from readers.