Collective Bargaining Rights for Police Linked to Increase in Non-White Civilian Deaths

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Police at Washington, DC protest. Photo by Geoff Livingston via Flickr.

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.

2 thoughts on “Collective Bargaining Rights for Police Linked to Increase in Non-White Civilian Deaths

  1. Having read the 31-pages of text, where to begin? The paper admits on page-3 that the authors have no idea how, exactly, how Police Unions affect fatal civilian use of force incidents.
    On page-30, the authors admit that “we have not precisely identified the channel through which these effects are operating.” But the authors then declare that their conclusions are “consistent with the popular notion ….” Behold – SCIENCE!

    No pages of a single labor contract have been opened. Of the dozens of pages in any Union contract – including Police Union contracts – only 1-5 pages are devoted to discipline, grievances, and appeals. Those are all ADMINISTRATIVE actions, disputes, and resolutions through a collective bargaining agreement with the Employer.No labor contract has any legal authority to override a CRIMINAL investigation and prosecution, especially by prosecuting agencies that are not connected to the Officer’s own Employer.

    Likewise, all of the statutory Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights only apply to ADMINISTRATIVE interactions with the Officer’s own Employer – NOT to CRIMINAL investigations.While admitting that there is no evidence of LEOBORS increasing fatal use of force incidents in any population group, the authors then attempt to placate the intended readers. At Footnote-51 they state that they cannot “rule out the possibility” that LEOBORS “influence police violence.”

    Possibility? After declaring through their bundles of charts that LEOBORS do NOT influence Police violence? This is “Science?”

    Likewise, no details of a single use of deadly force have been examined by the study. But again – on pure speculation – the authors opine that Police Unions “MAY shift” the “marginal decisions” to use deadly force. How does that occur, we might ask – given this extensive “Scientific” survey? The authors again speculate on Page-1 that providing legal aid to Officers who have ALREADY been charged, Police Unions can encourage the use of deadly force against minority groups.And the authors again regurgitate the “popular notion” that an Officer who is under a CRIMINAL investigation and prosecution for the use of deadly force may get “Union representation.”

    The paper stops its faux surveys in 1988. In truth, attorneys are now provided to Officers in those situations – not simply “Union Stewards.” My use of the term “regurgitate” is intentional – in that the law review articles cited within the study intentionally ignore the fact that Officers in those split-second situations are immediately and legally transitioned into “criminal suspects.”

    The “popular notion” that is now being ratcheted up by those same law review authors [who should certainly know better] is that Police Officers should be banned from asserting the same Constitutional Amendments and protections that are afforded to the “usual criminals.” Any criminal defendant, however – including a Police Officer – is entitled to access competent legal representation. Those rights exist during an investigation, as well as during an actual prosecution.

    In sum, barring the complete lack of ANY provable and factual link between the existence of a Police Union and the number of fatal incidents in any group, the authors have firmly cemented themselves beside mathematician Ptolemy in 150 A.D. Ptolemy’s theory that the sun circled the earth was completely backwards – but it seemed to work. Ergo – complete fiction was declared to be prosecutable fact.

    We must not overlook the authors’ own admissions that they have no idea how, or even “if,” there is a specific, provable connection between a Police Union and the use of fatal force on any occasion.

    So consider this indisputable fact – most US Law Enforcement agencies exclusively bought and used the Ford Crown Victoria sedan for their chosen vehicle – while fatal use of force incidents rose during the 1990s and early 2000s. Therefore, can we declare as a scientific fact that there is a statistical relevancy and connection between the purchase of the Ford Crown Victoria and the frequency of fatal force incidents?

    What – you don’t believe those hardcore statistical correlations?

  2. you certainly know how to mi- read a study both in the narrative and design aspects.

    “no proof” as for LIBOR is mostly a lack of certainty over noted but lost in noise (not filtered out by controls)

    “naratively” lets look to sec 2.2, pqge 6
    “Legal scholars have argued that police unions limit the discipline of officers (Walker,
    2008) and that they hamper police accountability efforts (Rushin, 2016). For example, in
    examining 178 union contracts of the United States’ largest police departments, Rushin
    (2016) finds that these agreements “limit officer interrogations after alleged misconduct,
    mandate the destruction of disciplinary records, ban civilian oversight, prevent anonymous
    civilian complaints, indemnify officers in the event of civil suits, and limit the length of
    internal investigations” (Rushin, 2016, p. 1192). Fisk and Richardson (2017) examine the
    evolution of police unions, providing qualitative evidence on how police unions act to protect police who are accused of misconduct.”

    So here are some actual possible causations for deaths and unions link. But that is not the topic in case you missed. The point is that increased deaths are more increased for non whites than for whites. They were not out to explain the why, merely to note the facts, the stats, nothing but the stats.

    Research is always focused and narowly so, the more complex the field- like this. its not like research in biology. the datw sets are much larger. So focus is needed to move by small understandings- details. Did you expect some grand fell swoop?

    As for the cars used, thats a silly straw man. No one would ever suggest funding that, any more than changes in belts or shoes in the uniforms.

    And asking for proof the union was guilty on any given caase is not how it works in science. Thats how it works in science where there is infinitely more money. coding after examining the details cLegal scholars have argued that police unions limit the discipline of officers (Walker,
    2008) and that they hamper police accountability efforts (Rushin, 2016). For example, in
    examining 178 union contracts of the United States’ largest police departments, Rushin
    (2016) finds that these agreements “limit officer interrogations after alleged misconduct,
    mandate the destruction of disciplinary records, ban civilian oversight, prevent anonymous
    civilian complaints, indemnify officers in the event of civil suits, and limit the length of
    internal investigations” (Rushin, 2016, p. 1192). Fisk and Richardson (2017) examine the
    evolution of police unions, providing qualitative evidence on how police unions act to protect
    police who are accused of misconduct. case by case? you think that’s simple? or fast? and what would be your signal stat finding? nada! because a direct lin case by case, lack of a link or a link- is undefinable. there is no way to operationalize the beans in the count.

    you seem to think someone wants to deny rights to officers. I believe there is enough note of the extraordinary rights they have negotiated in those “internal /administrative” boring stuff.

    Finally – yes this is all administrative, not matters for the local D.A. what your point?

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