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Police Unions & Officer Survival

Political expediency in officer safety issues stinks (feel free to fill in your more profane descriptive term)!  Officer safety and survival throughout this country are being compromised by politicians.  Sadly, in many cases this includes chiefs and administrators as well.

How so?

Let’s take a look.

Promises, Promises 

Running for office or reelection, you’ll hear the promises; “I’m pro-police!”  “More officers are what we need and I promise to hire more.” they’ll say.  Promises of more training, better equipment, on and on – like the old campaign promises of “a chicken in every pot” all those promises will be soon forgotten or broken.  Yeah, I know, the economy is tough and we all have to do more with less.  As a law enforcement officer for 30 years this has been the continual mantra from those in power.  The problem is that someone forgot to tell today’s criminal there is a recession and they should rob, shoot, burgle, and assault innocent victims less.  Any yet, statistics are manipulated to put forth the notion that crime is down – just forget that last year more officers were killed in the line of duty than the previous ten years.

Amazingly we’re told by the politicians that more officers will not reduce crime.  That’s its perfectly safe for officers to patrol solo, that they can cover more area and allow agencies to put more cars out.  That low-bid safety equipment is “good enough” or that despite all the pet political projects they can find money for, they don’t have money to take care of the cop on the beat.  On and on the stories are spun and the logic stretched and convoluted.

Internally many chief’s positions are more political than ever.  Three to four year contracts have eliminated any job security for the top level positions.  Want to keep your job chief?  You got to go along with the program.  Make waves, do the right thing and attempt to stand up for your troops and you’re out of there.  The result is that agency heads become voice boxes of politicians.  With no law enforcement experience and an agenda that is oftentimes contrary to a police officer’s (you know things like having enough, well-trained and competent officers on the job with the best equipment…) these politicians both in and out of uniform believe in the “warm body” rule.  This rule simply states that all we need in a patrol car is a “warm body” the officer doesn’t have to be trained well.  Matter-of-fact, training is training as long as they meet minimum standards.  Leadership has given way to management and positions once held by “leaders of men” have become political with those occupying them looking out for their own careers and self interests over the troops they’re supposed to serve.

As an old deputy chief once told me, “The higher you go up in an organization the more you are rewarded for loyalty versus competency.”

The Police Union’s Role 

Sadly what was once the role of department brass – looking out for the safety of the troops, has now become the increasing role of police unions.  Where once upon a time the union was focused on pay and benefits they now have to focus on a variety of topics relevant to their officer members.  Issues such as manpower, training, equipment, hiring, on and on have become issues in which the police union representing line officers has taken the leading role.

It is amazing to me that the police union is held in such negative light by chiefs and supervisors nationwide.  When they were coming up through the ranks it was the union who protected them and obtained things under contract such as seniority rights and the like.  It is still the union to which they rush when things don’t go their way or when their rights are affected.

I’m a proud member of the Fraternal Order of Police.  According to the F.O.P., I’m one of more than 325,000 members in 2,100 lodges.  The FOP has been instrumental in getting legislation passed and Examples include:

  • The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act which allows concealed off-duty carry by current or retired law enforcement
  • New body armor standards from the National Institute of Justice
  • Mandatory sentencing for cop killers.

 

And a lot more issues and concerns, oftentimes at odds with local politicians and department brass, the FOP has a loud legislative voice in D.C. to protect law enforcement labor rights and safety issues.

Local lodges throughout the country have increased officer safety and survival throughout the years including:

 

  • Ensuring that their member’s rights are protecting in use of deadly force and non-deadly force incident investigations.
  • Providing legal counsel in use of deadly force investigations.
  • Providing representation in the advent of an internal affairs investigation including those unmeritorious and vindictive I.A. cases.
  • Body armor provided by the agencies instead of paid for by the officer.  *Rich Davis, the inventor of modern concealed body armor, would travel and demo his vests at police union lodges throughout the country.
  • Transitions to semi-auto pistols nationwide was promoted by state trooper, police and sheriff union lodges after too many LEO’s were killed in shoot-outs.
  • Staffing issues such as ensuring that a sufficient number of police officers or sheriff’s deputies were on-duty to provide back-up for each other and handle emergencies.
  • Hosting officer survival programs such as the Calibre Press Street Survival program.

 

Thanks to police defense attorneys such as Michael Stone, Laura Scarry, Mike Brave, Randy Means, Missy O’Lynn and many more who have worked on retainer for police unions and have held agencies, cities, counties, and states throughout this land accountable for their actions.  Thanks to the union defense attorneys we now have clearer use of force policies, training and a better understanding of when officers can and to what extent – use force.

Recently when police and fire unions and collective bargaining came under attack, it was the F.O.P. and other police and fire unions which entered into the fray providing funding and legislative manpower to stop what was clearly a devastating bit of legislation for police officers.  I wrote letters to every state representative and senator who supported the bill outlining how devastating it would be on officer safety.  Their response, “Oh, your local and county government will take care of you.”  Do they really think this is true? If so, they apparently haven’t been paying attention all these years?

Working Together 

Is this a condemnation of all high-law and police supervision?  No.  There are still leaders within the ranks who look out for and take care of the troops, which is and should be their primary mission.  Every once in a while you read about or hear of such a chief on the news – the ones who stand up and publicly support and defend their officers, despite the possible fall-out or adverse effects to their careers.  Such men and women are leaders and heroes and have earned every penny of their pay.  They can sleep soundly in their beds as night knowing they’ve done the right thing for the right reason.

Wouldn’t it be better if police chiefs and sheriffs worked together with the police unions to improve working conditions and safety for officers on the job?  By working with police unions, chiefs and sheriffs could accomplish what should be the main mission of both, to have the safest and most professional, highly trained and well outfitted officers on the streets of their jurisdiction taking care of the citizens and enforcing the law.

The question then becomes if it is that simple, why is there such an adversarial relationship between police unions and department bosses?  I know as a member of labor, that’s what we want and what my union works for.  Shouldn’t police management as well?

When it comes to officer safety, training, equipment and adequate manpower – we should not compromise.  To do so only exposes our officers to risk.  I will stand with my Brother and Sisters in Blue, my fellow union members, against these cuts, compromises and expedient solutions to very serious matters and concerns for all of us.  Together we are strong and our voices will be heard and together we will look out for each other!

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About The Author:

Kevin Davis is a full-time officer assigned to the training bureau where he specializes in use of force, firearms and tactical training. With over 23 years in law enforcement, his previous experience includes patrol, corrections, narcotics and he is a former team leader and lead instructor for his agency's SWAT team with over 500 call-outs in tactical operations.

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