The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) describes itself as embodying “more than 330,000 members in more than 2,200 lodges. We are the voice of those who dedicate their lives to protecting and serving our communities.” They have used this voice to organize police unions in municipalities across the country, negotiate police union contracts in these locations, and pass Law Enforcement Officers Bills of Rights (LEOBORs) in 14 states. These contracts and policies are designed to ensure that police that kill and brutalize community members can escape trial, conviction and literally any form of accountability whatsoever for their actions. They function as obstructions to justice that allow killer cops to walk free and force community members to take to the streets to demand reform.
The FOP is also fighting to pass national legislation that would designate police officers as one of the protected communities under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.
It’s called the Blue Lives Matter Act. And it is a direct slap in the face to communities struggling against police brutality. Congress will likely review it when they reconvene in September, and it needs to be blocked.
The success of the Fraternal Order of Police’s movement to pass federal
legislation such as the Blue Lives Matter Act rests in convincing the public that police have dangerous jobs, that they do these jobs while under attack, and that they are left completely defenseless by the legal system. They also want the public to believe that there are Blue Lives. That they Matter. And that they need protecting. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Police are not people.
Blue is not an identity. Blue is not a race. It is not a gender. It is not a sexual orientation. Blue is not a religious affiliation or a disability. Blue is a position. It is a government position. It is a paid government position that is filled by employees with medical and dental benefits. The police are a profession – they are not people.
As a profession, the police are in a far less dangerous position than one might think. In fact, it would be fair to argue that police don’t have a very dangerous job at all. According to the FBI, in 2015 “41 officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty…” This is a 20% decrease since 2014. Not only are their jobs relatively risk-free, but the risk has consistently gone down for decades. In 2013, for example the United States saw the fewest police deaths by firearms since 1887.
The national murder rate of the general population is approximately 5.6 per 100,000. The death rate for firefighters is 6.1 and the fatality rate for EMTs rests at around 7.0. With a murder rate of just over 4 per 100,000, the police are in less danger of facing death than other first responders as well as the general public. “Police officer” doesn’t even make the list of the top 10 deadliest jobs in the United States. Farmers, fishers, construction workers and truck drivers all put their lives at greater risks for their professions than police officer do. Even though the president of the FOP, Chuck Canterbury, has asserted, “Law enforcement is under attack in this country. This country needs to wake up” - the numbers just don’t support that statement. The FOP also wants the public to believe that they are legally defenseless under a barrage of false accusations of misconduct describing a “patently unfair disparity in rights afforded criminal suspects but not police officers.” Much like the propagandized notion that police officers are more likely to be murdered than workers from other professions and the general public, the exact opposite is true.
In function, it is almost impossible to even bring an officer that has killed a civilian to court for their crimes, let alone secure a conviction. Even after the recorded killings of Oscar Grant, John T. Williams, Philando Castile, Laquan MacDonald, Eric Garner, Charles Kinsey and a number of other victims– an average of only 4 out of the over 1000 cases of police killings make it to court. And of these an average of only 1 will be convicted. In many ways, an officer has the right to kill without consequence. It doesn’t matter if the individual is unarmed, not accused of a crime, in a mental health crisis, assisting someone having a mental health crisis, a child, someone physically incapable of exacting deadly force or an individual fleeing with their back turned. There is less than a .1 percent chance that an officer will be convicted for the murder of a civilian.
There are reasons for this. Two of the most powerful tools used to protect officers and ensure they’re not held accountable for their brutal and deadly actions have been designed and implemented across the country by the Fraternal Order of Police. They are police union contracts and Law Enforcement Officers Bills of Rights (LEOBORs). These policies have ensured that police are afforded rights that no other civilian could possibly assert.
For example, as a result of these policies, law enforcement officers have the rights to:
- Expunge or destroy records of past misconduct from their disciplinary file. This practice provides a number of obstacles to justice, not the least of which is obstruct the legal system’s ability to prove charges of “pattern and practice” of discrimination.
- Refuse interrogation from anywhere between 48 hours and 10 days after an incident of misconduct. Additionally, police officers must be informed of the complaints and testimony against them before making a statement. Peter Neufield, a lawyer who successfully fought a policy requiring a 48 hours wait period in New York explains that “these officers to wait until the forensics come in before constructing a narrative. Sure, even if you were able to question them earlier in the process, you wouldn’t get many cops who would confess. But you would get some who’d make false exculpatory statements, and that’s a big deal.”
- Prevent the creation of external review organizations including Civilian and Community review boards. In cases where these boards are allowed to organize, they render them ineffective by legislating that they do not have the power to interrogate, subpoena or enforce consequences on law enforcement officers. Further, many contracts include provisions requiring that the Chief of Police has the sole authority to carry out discipline processes.
These efforts have functioned effectively to block accountability and reform efforts generated by the communities, the district attorneys, the state attorney generals, the mayors, and the courts. They also function to let killer cop after killer cop go free with a success rate of 99.9 percent.
Checkthepolice.org has compiled state Law Enforcement Bills of Rights and local police contracts for review and analysis. They found that:“72 of 81 cities’ contracts and 13 of the 14 states with police bills of rights were found to impose at least one barrier to police accountability. 63 cities and 12 states had three or more provisions imposing barriers to accountability…. 41 cities and 9 states give officers under investigation access to information that civilians suspects don’t get, including 16 cities that allow officers to review all evidence against them prior to being interrogated…..43 cities and 3 states erase records of misconduct, in some cases erasing records after 2 years or less….25 cities and 4 states disqualify certain complaints from being investigated or resulting in discipline, for example if they are submitted too many days after an incident occurs or if an investigation takes too long to complete.”
Direct federal action needs to be taken to stop these abuses permanently. Police brutality is a nationwide civil rights issue. Slavery would not have been ended plantation by plantation. Segregation would not have been ended building by building. Police brutality will not end precinct by precinct, city by city or state by state. Federal monitoring, assessment and protections are needed to ensure that people’s rights are protected no matter what city they live in.
In the short term, swift action needs to be taken to ensure that the federal Blue Lives Matter Act is not passed. Colorofchange.org has a petition to tell Congress to “Stop FOP’s ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Laws.” Media representatives, organizers, protesters, advocates and educators can also be mobilized to bring attention to this act and the damages it will do to those targeted by police in order to stop its passage.
In the long term, steps need to be taken to stop federal attempts to pass a Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, abolish LEOBORs and eliminate the police unions and their contracts. Fortunately again, there is a legal avenue through which to abolish police unions and their contracts. This avenue also allows for the police union to be dissolved without threatening other unions in the process.
The nation’s leading law enforcement agencies are prevented from unionizing by the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act. After the Watergate scandal, there was a brief political window in which the public and government officials were afraid enough of abuses of authority by law enforcement, that there were willing to enact legislation that placed greater constraints on their ability to engage in misconduct and brought “efficiency and accountability” to law enforcement organizations operating at the federal level. Legislation that adds the national network of state and local law enforcement to list of those prevented from unionizing under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act would ensure that police are held accountable by the federal government, facilitate the elimination of police unions, dissolve existing police union contracts, and prevent future obstructions created by additional police union contracts and legislation. The petition to support this reform can be found here.
There are also other measures being taken to confront police union contracts and the Fraternal Order of Police. The National Association Against Police Brutality also has a petition asking the Attorney General to act against the obstructions to justice created by LEOBORs and police union contracts. Campaign Zero is similarly taking action to pass federal legislation that combats police unions. All of these efforts and additional efforts to directly confront and combat the Fraternal Order of Police, federal LEOBORs, local police contracts and the Blue Lives Matter Act needs to be supported if enough momentum is to be gained to stop the FOP’s legal advancements.
These effort need to be taken whether or not the Trump campaign receives the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police. Although the thought of an alliance between a potential Trump administration and the FOP should give any civil rights reformer reason to increase their efforts to protect targeted communities.
Police union contracts and Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights are allowing killer cops to walk free. The Fraternal Order of Police has taken the justice system hostage in terms of reform and prosecution. We will not stop police brutality until we stop the police unions and the Fraternal Order of Police. The first step is to confront and defeat attempts to pass Law Enforcement Bills of Rights at the federal level and the Blue Lives Matter Act. The next step is to abolish police unions and their contracts all together. There will still be many more steps to take to end police brutality once these measures are accomplished. We need to start walking the walk.