Police unions have long had a singular—and divisive—place in American labor. What is different at this fraught moment, however, is that these unions, long considered untouchable, due to their extraordinary power on the streets and among politicians, face a potential reckoning, as their conduct roils not just one city but the entire nation. Since the nineteen-sixties, when police unions first became like traditional unions and won the right to bargain collectively, they have had a controversial history. And recent studies suggest that their political and bargaining power has enabled them to win disciplinary systems so lax that they have helped increase police abuses in the United States.
A 2018 University of Oxford study of the hundred largest American cities found that the extent of protections in police contracts was directly and positively correlated with police violence and other abuses against citizens. A 2019 University of Chicago study found that extending collective-bargaining rights to Florida sheriffs’ deputies led to a forty per cent statewide increase in cases of violent misconduct—translating to nearly twelve additional such incidents annually.
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