Extend Act 10 to Cover Police
Law restricting collective bargaining rights exempted police. Including them could make cops more accountable.
Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin and his tenure with the Minneapolis Police Department became a national controversy in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in May. This wasn’t Chauvin’s first act of misconduct over his 20-year career — in fact, this would be the 18th complaint filed against him. But how is it that he has maintained his job? The answer, in part, is the power of police unions.
Police unions are strong in the U.S. They were even exempted from Act 10, the controversial public-sector union reforms passed in Wisconsin in 2011. But strong police unions are an important reason why officers like Chauvin might still be a part of the force in Wisconsin, too.
If Wisconsin wants to make lasting and impactful reforms to policing and ensure that it is always and only oriented toward public safety, the state should consider extending Act 10 to police unions.
According to a 2019 article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 93 Milwaukee police officers were disciplined for egregious misconduct, but all kept their jobs. “Their offenses range from sexual assault and domestic violence to drunken driving and shoplifting,” the paper reported. In one domestic violence case, the officer told investigators that he did throw his wife to the ground and hit her in the chest, chin and face with an open hand. He was initially charged with domestic violence related substantial battery, which is a felony and would have cost him his job. But the charges were eventually lowered to noncriminal tickets if he “completed domestic violence treatment, substance abuse assessment and treatment, and a parenting class.”
For similar reasons, the Legislature could extend Act 10’s reforms to the state’s police unions. Police unions serve two main purposes: they help negotiate working conditions such as officers’ hours and their benefits. They also are supposed to protect officers when they are wrongly accused. But in this effort, unions all too often protect bad officers.
Police unions across the country have fought reforms like body cameras, the legality of filming an on-duty officer with your cellphone, merit-based pay, signing consent decrees to hold officers accountable, banning contracts with private trainers to teach war-type tactical courses and so on. Under the Milwaukee Police Union contract, officers accused of misconduct can only be interrogated during certain hours of the day, leaving time to get the story straight. A lengthy process is set up to arbitrate disputes when department rules are broken, potentially delaying the removal of bad actors and discouraging superior officers from taking needed actions.
There is an argument that police officers need more protection than teachers simply due to their line of work. However, there are other ways to protect officers that can ensure transparency and accountability. Like malpractice insurance for doctors, police officers could have personal liability insurance that helps cover the fees they might incur if accused. Their premiums would increase if counts of misconduct are filed against them.
Reducing the power of police unions would not only allow a precinct to fire an officer, but for cases where the officer has been involved in wrongful death, this could be taken a step further. With private liability insurance companies involved, an officer who has enough counts against him would eventually become uninsurable, which could result in revoking his or her badge altogether.
The current upheaval in America is evidence that trust needs to be mended between officers and the public. We must look for reforms that ensure police can do their jobs without sacrificing accountability and transparency. Police unions, like their public-sector union counterparts, have enabled a system that too often protects the “bad apples” and thwarts critical reforms. Let’s fix it.
This column was first published by The Cap Times in Madison.
- Lawmakers Request Civil Rights Probe of Tosa PD - Isiah Holmes - Jul 23rd, 2021
- How Does Police Reform Compare To Other Cities? - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 14th, 2021
- Bowen Introduces Package of Policing Bills - Isiah Holmes - Jun 4th, 2021
- Activists Reflect on a Year of Protest - Isiah Holmes - Jun 3rd, 2021
- One Year After George Floyd’s Death - Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - May 30th, 2021
- Op Ed: After a Year of Protests What’s Changed? - Angela Lang - May 27th, 2021
- Film: Bullhorn Films Documents Protests - Michael Holloway - May 20th, 2021
- Op Ed: Chauvin Verdict Offers Glimmer of Hope - Angela Lang and Milwaukee BLOC Team - Apr 25th, 2021
- Protesters Rally After Chauvin Verdict - Graham Kilmer - Apr 21st, 2021
- Supervisor Taylor Statement on Derek Chauvin Guilty Verdict - Sup. Sequanna Taylor - Apr 21st, 2021
Read more about 2020 Racial Justice Protests here
- Public Employees Seek a Voice At Work - Erik Gunn - Mar 2nd, 2021
- The State of Politics: Where Are Act 10 Players Today? - Steven Walters - Mar 1st, 2021
- Evers Budget Restores Union Rights - Shawn Johnson - Feb 22nd, 2021
- The State Of Politics: Ten Years After Act 10 - Steven Walters - Jul 27th, 2020
- Op Ed: Extend Act 10 to Cover Police - Will Flanders and Cori Petersen - Jun 17th, 2020
- Urban MKE Flashback: Was Act 10 Necessary? - Bruce Murphy - Mar 11th, 2020
- Can Union Organizers Thread Act 10 Needle? - Erik Gunn - Jan 28th, 2020
- Act 10 Caused Big Decline in Unions - Miranda Suarez - Nov 22nd, 2019
- Op Ed: How Act 10 Hurt State Education - James Rowen - Jun 14th, 2018
- Act 10 Protests Ignited Mahlon Mitchell’s Political Career - Shawn Johnson - Jun 11th, 2018
Read more about ACT 10 here