Paul R. Lehman, Law enforcement Union leaders are necessary to community relations efforts

February 3, 2015 at 4:42 pm | Posted in African American, American history, blacks, Constitutional rights, democracy, Disrespect, equality, European American, Ferguson, justice, justice system, police force, Prejudice, public education, social justice system, socioeconomics, whites | Leave a comment
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In the wake of the Ferguson experience last Summer, many communities have attempted to get together with the law enforcement agencies and the Public administration to try and create some dialogue relative to improved relations among themselves. In some cases the efforts have been positive, however, in others, little or no progress has been made. To some observers, one of the stumbling blocks to progress involves the law enforcement union leaders. To get a better understanding of how that problem came to exist, we must look at it from an organizational perspective.
Whether one accepts it or not, the representatives of the law enforcement unions actually control the rank and file officers, not the chiefs or the public administrators. What has happened is that many of the union leaders have created a picture of their agency and members as the most value people in society because their duty is to protect and serve the public. These union leaders try to convince the public that because of the law enforcers’ jobs, they should be exempted from treatment reserved for the normal citizens. Their jobs are often said to be the most dangerous one in society; obviously ignoring other equally dangerous and life-threatening professions.
The characteristics of group mentality and behavior are introduced into the law enforcement organizations in their academics and schools; this aspect of group identity is necessary and welcomed for the well-being of the organizations and the individuals. The instruction and training received by the agents are generally excellent and are meant to serve the public well. Most agents volunteer to serve the public in this capacity because they sincerely want to serve and protect their communities.
To the outside observer, what has happened, to a degree, in American society is the taking of power by some law enforcement union leaders from the chiefs and administrators. These union leaders convince their followers that their profession requires them to adapt an attitude of us versus them. The “us” are the law enforcement agents, the good guys, and the “they” represent the general public, or the perpetrators, the bad guys. In addition, the union members are lead to believe that they will be protected by the union regardless of any situation in which they find themselves. The concept of the “Blue Line” is one that reinforces that unity and protection aspect of the union.
In any given situation involving law enforcement misconduct, the chiefs and supervisors must follow the prescribed procedures. However, when the union enters the picture, the power of the chiefs and supervisors seem to disappear. More often then not, the union prevails over the powers of the departments where the agent or agents were involved. In other instances, the departments investigate themselves; a practice that begs the question of how justice is served.
So, what does all this have to do with communities getting together with their public officials and law enforcement agencies to try and create better relationships? The answer is that the organizations involved in trying to start a constructive dialogue in the community must involve the union representatives, because they seemingly believe they hold the best interest of the law enforcement members. In some instances, these leaders have demonstrated their power over their membership beyond that of the publically elected law enforcement officials. For one example of this power, let us look at what happened in New York City and a situation involving the mayor Bill de Blasio:
“When Mayor de Blasio first spoke about the non-indictment of the police officer who killed Eric Garner, he placed the case in a personal context:
‘Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. A good young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.’” (dailykos.com)

The police union representative along with some officers took exception to the Mayor’s comments and took action in opposition to him:
“New York City’s largest police union created a form letter that members could send to the Mayor and the City Council Speaker, requesting the pair not attend the officer’s funeral should he or she die in the line of duty. The union said officers felt as if they had been ‘thrown under the bus,” and said the Mayor instead should have been encouraging parents to teach their children “to comply with police officers, even if they feel it’s unjust.’”(dailykos.com)
In addition to this action, when the Mayor attended and spoke at the funeral of one of the first of two officers that had been shot by a mentally disturbed man, many members of the police in attendance turned their back to the Mayor as a sign of disrespect. During the Mayor’s speech at the second officer’s funeral some police officers again turned their backs towards the Mayor even after the Police chief had requested they not do so. The officers had no fear of repercussions from their departments because of the power of their unions.
As things stand, the critical component in any attempts to create meaningful, positive, and effective relations between the law enforcement and the communities of color must involve the police unions. In order for the results of these meetings to be positive and effective knowledge of organizational structure must be accurate and transparent. The law enforcement agents need to know that they work for the people, not the other way around. Although their jobs are dangerous, they do not stand alone or apart from others with dangerous jobs; all lives are valuable. Their jobs are to uphold the laws, not serve as judge or jury. Their jobs are open to the public; all candidates must meet the qualifications and pass the necessary requirements; all these things are done voluntarily. No one is forced to go into law enforcement work.
In order to affect positive change in the relationships between the communities and the law enforcement agencies, the people, the public administrators, the immediate department supervisors and chiefs must not defer their powers to union leaders. If that happens, then the community becomes a “police state.”All participants must learn to work together for the common good if positive change is to occur. Change will happen, but it will be slow in coming because of the nature of power and who has it.

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