American Scandal

Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.

Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.

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Encore: The Midnight Crew | Police Unions and the Limits of Reform | 5

Encore: The Midnight Crew | Police Unions and the Limits of Reform | 5

Tue, 07 Feb 2023 08:01

Historian William Jones explains how police unions shape law enforcement in America, while potentially shielding officers from accusations of misconduct.

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Hey, Prime Members, you can listen to American Scandal add-free on Amazon Music, download the app today. Music From Wondering, I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American Scandal. John Burge had an outsized reputation among Chicago police. As a commander of the Chicago PD, Burge won a claim for bringing violent criminals to justice and solving some of the most challenging cases. But underneath the public praise and commendations was a devastating secret. For two decades, Burge and his allies in the Chicago PD had tortured black citizens in an effort to extract criminal confessions. Burge would eventually face justice himself. In 2011, he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison after lying under oath about his role in torturing suspected criminals. And while Burge's conviction came as a relief to some of his victims, it also renewed a fierce debate about police brutality and the challenges of holding officers accountable for their crimes. It's a debate that's resurfaced in the last few years in the aftermath of several high-profile cases of police misconduct. My guest today is William Jones, historian at the University of Minnesota, who focuses on issues of civil rights and unions. Jones is the author of the books, The March on Washington, and The Tribe of Black Ulysses. He's also the director of the Police Unions and Police Violence Project at the Labor and Work Life Program at Harvard Law School. In our conversation, we'll discuss the large role that police unions play in shaping law enforcement across the country, and how police unions potentially shield officers from accusations of misconduct, and how cities are responding to widespread demands for reform. Our conversation is next. American scandal is sponsored by ZockDock, so you've got to worry some mole or a cough that just won't quit. You've Googled, texted your friends, but can't find anything that isn't frightening and probably wrong. You won't get good medical advice from a search engine or TikTok, so turn to the medical professionals on ZockDock. ZockDock is the only free app that lets you find and book doctors who are patient reviewed, take your insurance, are available when you need them, and treat almost every condition under the sun. So go to slash AS, and download the ZockDock app for free, then find and book a top rated doctor today. Many are available within 24 hours. That's slash AS. slash AS. I'm Lindsey Graham, host of the Wondery Show Business Movers. In our latest series, an intrepid lawyer turned fast food executive named George Cohan, creates an ingenious and wily scheme to sell big Macs behind the iron curtain in the middle of the Cold War. Listen to business movers, the McDonald's invasion on Amazon music or wherever you get your podcasts. Well Jones, welcome to Americans Gandall. It's nice to be here. Thanks for having me on the show. So the current debate surrounding police brutality is nothing new, but it reached certainly a new intensity after May 25th, 2020. That's the day a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, a 46 year old African American. In the in the aftermath of that killing recorded and shared on social media all over protests were held across the country. It was a big movement. That was about two and a half years ago though. So in the time since, how do you think policing has changed in America? Yeah, I mean, I think it's a great question. And I guess the short answer I think is surprisingly little has happened. And given the intensity of the protests, I think also given the way in which I think there was a widespread feeling that we had reached what summit called the sort of racial reckoning. There was a widespread denunciation of police violence and the racial disparities in police violence and a commitment on the part of I think from top to bottom of elected officials saying, this is a moment of change and a need for real change. And I think looking back after two and a half years, if anything, I think we've seen a sliding back away from those commitments. And I think very little has actually changed in terms of the patterns of police violence. We've seen continued police violence in some ways it's actually increased. And the rhetoric has actually shifted away from the talk of racial reckoning, a talk of call for reform to one of elected officials across the political spectrum saying that they're dedicated to increasing funding for policing and very little talk about reform anymore. Well, it sounds then that the problem is so entrenched that it's difficult to deal with and certainly political how widespread is the problem of police brutality. It's very widespread. I mean, an organization mapping police violence has been tracking police killings and over the past decade, you know, we've seen about a thousand people every year killed by the police last year was actually the largest number of people killed by police on record over a thousand one thousand one hundred and seventy six people. This has been and remains a problem that's disproportionately victimizes African Americans and other people of color. And you know, like I said, it's something that has remained, you know, fairly constant and, you know, in the last year actually increased. You mentioned the disparity in these killings. And I wonder certainly that was a focus of the protests two and a half years ago, which do you think is the locus of popular disgruntlement with police activity. The killings and violence themselves or the racial disparity historically and today the disparity reflects the fact that it is a problem that is disproportionately affected African American communities also Latino and Native American communities are disproportionately victimized by police violence. And so I think that the calls for reform have come from those communities. If we look at the raw numbers, the majority of people killed by police are white and you know one thing that we saw in the protest after George Floyd's murder was actually a very by racial or multi racial turn out of people calling for police reforms part of that I think reflected a sort of moral commitment to justice. But part of it also reflected the fact that white communities are also targeted victimized by police violence. What's causing this to keep happening? You know, we live in a society that has a very high tolerance for police violence. There's often calls for a punitive approach to crime. The sense that this type of like hyper policing is necessary to preserve what is often called law and order that rhetoric of law and order is a very powerful political force. And I think you know that creates at least the sort of background context in which the argument that efforts to reform police just weaken them and lead to chaos right that sort of undermine what some call the thin blue line or weaken that thin black. So in that context, I think it reflects a broader problem of the way in which we think about crime and the way in which we think about policing. One result of that is that you know police are very rarely held accountable for even very overt acts of misconduct and brutality. So that the conviction of officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd was a really rare case actually in which officers are charged with crime in cases of police killing people less than 2% of the time. Our officers even charged with a crime let alone being convicted. Now of course these incidents have devastating and often lethal consequences for the individuals involved, but are there greater costs? I mean obviously the most important cost is the lives of the people who are victimized by police violence. But beyond that there's really significant economic costs. One is that well police officers are very rarely charged or convicted of crimes. Cities often settle cases of police violence directly with the victims and their families. The Washington Post did a survey of 25 of the nation's largest police departments over the past decade and found that they had settled in 40,000 cases and paid out over $3 billion in payments to settle disputes of misconduct or claims of misconduct against police. It also happens, I mean it has a long term effect on just the effectiveness of law enforcement that particular communities that are victimized by police violence. We see patterns of distrust in the police that make it very difficult for police to actually do their jobs. So it undermines a broader sense of safety in these communities. And one of the really difficult questions that we face, we said about the social level is that on one hand we have people saying we need more police, we can't reform the police because this will undermine the social order. But the reality is that the way in which the police are conducting their jobs often undermines the sense of social safety within particular communities. And there's a disconnect between people who live in those communities and people who are sort of looking from the outside in those communities. So with the stakes so high and the consequences so costly, why has police reform been so difficult generally? Right, I mean I think that's a really important question. And I think we need to look at it as a, you know, this is a political problem. And it's in some ways a problem created by, you know, very different political constituencies calling for in some ways very contradictory things. And we have a significant support in our electorate for police, which often leads to a tolerance of police brutality. This often comes from communities that are not victimized by police brutality or over policing, but it's also fed by the sense of under policing in those very communities that are, you know, victimized by police brutality. So people sort of face the choice, they think between either having police and having some police violence or not having any police and being victimized by crime. And that contradictory experience really sets up a political problem that often leads to what I think we've seen in the past few years, right of a sort of calls for reform. But then those reforms, you know, people say, well, we can't really reform the police because if we do that, then we're going to have chaos. And that contradiction gives police tremendous political power, which is often wielded through other unions. But that power, I think, rests within a political rhetoric that is often bipartisan that says we really need to fund the police, we need to give them what they need to do their jobs. And that often overrides concerns about police brutality. American scandal is sponsored by BetterHelp. We all have good days and bad days. Sometimes the world conspires against us. Sometimes we get up on the wrong side of the bed. There are external problems and internal problems. But here's the thing, both can be handled better with the right mindset and the right tools. Therapists are trained to help you figure out the cause of challenging emotions and learn productive coping skills. And regardless of where the pressure is coming from, internal or external, after every therapy session, you'll feel more ready to cope. And if you're thinking of giving therapy a try, BetterHelp is a great option. As the world's largest therapy service, BetterHelp has matched 3 million people with professionally licensed and vetted therapists available 100% online, plus it's affordable. Just fill out a brief questionnaire to match with a therapist. And if things aren't clicking, you can easily switch to a new therapist any time. You couldn't be simpler. No waiting rooms, no traffic, no endless searching for the right therapist. Learn more and save 10% off your first month at slash AS. American scandal is sponsored by HelloFresh. How are you feeling today? Me? I'm doing pretty good. I know why. I've been on a bit of a self-improvement kick. I even started in November to prove to myself that I didn't need gimmicks like New Year's resolutions. So continuing on with my plan, I exercise this morning. I just completed dry January and I've been cooking and eating well at home. Even if it seems like hard work, cooking at home can be easy. The key is to remove barriers. And a great way to do that is to get fresh, pre-measured ingredients and seasonal recipes delivered right to my front door with HelloFresh. HelloFresh recipes are easy to follow and quick to make, and they're affordable. Cheaper than grocery shopping and 25% cheaper than takeout. There's low calorie, vegetarian, family-friendly recipes and more. Switch it up whenever you like. I enjoy the bold world flavors like Korean beef bibimbap, new ingredients and new techniques that broaden your palate and make you a better cook. Go to slash Scandal65 and use code Scandal65 for 65% off-plus free shipping. That's 65% off-plus free shipping at slash Scandal65, offer code Scandal65. You bring up police unions. That's one of your areas of expertise. What is a police union? What do they do? Right. Well, a police union is, in some respects, like any other union, it bargains collectively, which, you know, the basic idea of collective bargaining is that often when we go to apply for a job, we bargain individually with the employer. Over things like wages and working conditions. The idea of collective bargaining rests on the idea that if workers do that as a group, collectively, they will be more effective and they'll have a little bit more cloud to bargain for better things. So unions are often both negotiating vehicles, you know, they bargain collectively, but they also operate politically so they can, you know, endorse officials that they feel will represent their interests. They can give speeches and sort of operate through the media. So again, police unions in many respects operate like any other union. Well, normally when we talk about any other union, whether they're representing teachers or nurses or Starbucks employees, we tend to focus on the way they improve working conditions or guarantee wages and benefits. And unions have long fought to earn workers of fair wage and a more humane work day. But police unions are different. The difference between an ordinary unionized Starbucks employee and a police officer is that the barista will not likely ever have to make life or death decisions or face public or prosecutorial scrutiny for their actions. So how do police unions seek to protect their members from this unusual aspect of the job? What's known as due process of provisions are often important parts of union contracts for police. Those due process provisions often govern charges around use of force. So if you're involved in a killing or the beating of a civilian, they often provide guidelines for how certain types of violations can be punished or prosecuted. So one example of that is that union contracts sometimes limit the ability of investigators within the police department to question police officers who are involved in a case of misconduct. So sometimes they have to wait a certain amount of time before they can actually question the police officer. Sometimes they have to share the information that they know about the incident before they question the police officer. Some argue that this gives the officer time to talk to other officers and sort of get their story aligned and to insulate themselves from accountability. Well, you've begun alluding to this because you know, many times when there are explicit guidelines and processes, the room for scurting them for loop holding them or exploiting them grows with the amount of bureaucracy around them. So I'm wondering how police unions may cause an increase in misconduct. There's some evidence of this. This is a sort of a fairly new subject of investigation, but there's been a few studies looking at the relationship between collective bargaining contracts for police and misconduct. One study looked at a case in Florida. So in Florida, a sheriff's deputies gained collective bargaining rights when municipal police officers did not. This study found a 40% increase in violent misconduct by sheriff's deputies and argued that we could attribute that 40% increase to the extension of collective bargaining rights to the sheriff's deputies. There was another study that was in sort of nationwide looking at the development of collective bargaining rights between the 1950s and the 1980s. This is the period when public employees gain collective bargaining rights in many states. And this study estimated that collective bargaining accounted for 10% of all the deaths by non-white civilians by police. So when non-white civilians were killed by police, about 10% of them could be linked to the extension of collective bargaining for those police. Of course, it's very difficult to separate out all the factors that are leading to this. These collective bargaining rights have increased at the same time as we've seen the sort of intensification of the political rhetoric of law and order, of the sense that police need to be empowered to do their job and sort of we need to get out of the way. So it's not just police unions and it's not just collective bargaining contracts that are leading to these trends, but I think it is clear that they are an important factor. Now you mentioned the decades of the 50s and 80s in which public employees really began unionization efforts. So that brings up the history of police unions and how we got to this moment. How long has America's police force been unionized? Well, you know, police unions in some ways again are like other unions. The police have been forming unions since the 19th century and asking for collective bargaining rights since then. But they didn't really gain those rights until the 1960s. Public employees were left out of federal labor laws. In part due to the fear that unions would strike and deprive the public of police services. Or in the case of other public employees, you know, essential services, health care, education, transportation. That fear was actually driven in large part by a case of a strike by police in Boston during the first world war. And this was a case in which police were asking for the right to bargain collectively. The city denied them that right and they went on strike. And there was an increase in certain types of crime. There was a looting in downtown Boston. The most widespread complaint was that people were sort of gambling in public. And so it wasn't, you know, it wasn't a violent crime. But there was certainly this sense that the police strike led to a breakdown of law and order. So when Congress gave private sector workers the rights to form unions and bargain collectively in the 1930s, public workers were left out and police were an important part of this. And so between the 1930s and the 1950s, we see a push by public employees for collective bargaining rights. Importantly, it's not actually police who are really important in pushing for this. This is actually mostly low wage public employees, actually largely African Americans who play a really important role in this. So these are non professional hospital workers. So maids and janitors, food service workers in hospitals and in schools, sanitation workers. And they start to gain ground in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1959, the state of Wisconsin is the first state to actually pass a law granting public employees in that state the right to bargain collectively. This sets a pattern that is repeated by about 25 states over the next two decades. And this is where we start to see the emergence of a public sector union movement. So this is when we see teachers unions gain power, nurses unions gain power. And this is when police unions, so they had existed before this. But they gained tremendous power. And in some ways, they were the biggest beneficiaries of these legal changes. They're the ones that really took off after this period and gained tremendous influence. American scandal is sponsored by the free to download mobile game, June's journey. It's a dark cold night. You were out with friends and time got away from you. Now you're walking home a little later than you should. As you pass by a nearby house, you hear a crash, then a muffled thud from inside. A shadowy figure races out the door. Is something wrong? Do you run? Do you call the police? Or do you start looking for clues? If you love murder mysteries like I do, June's journey is a game full of them. It's a hidden object game that has you searching for clues needed to solve mystery after mystery. And with new chapters every week, there's always a new case waiting to be cracked. Plus build your own island estate with expansive gardens and beautiful buildings. Collect scraps of information to fill your photo album and learn more about each character. Chat and play with or against other players. Join contests for short stories, island decoration and more to win big in-game prizes. So do what I do whenever I've got a bit of free time. Put your perception and awareness to the test. Find your first clue by downloading June's journey today. Available on Android and iOS mobile devices as well as on PC through Facebook games. Well, let's go back a little further because there's a bit of a historical irony in how police forces evolved at all in the 19th century. I mean, if we look at the sort of the emergence of police forces in the 19th century, there's two main sort of social origin stories. One is actually in the control of enslaved workers. So modern police forces have their origins and some respects in slave patrols. And the purpose of these was in places in southern states where slavery was an important part of the economy. They were employed to suppress slave rebellions, but they also existed in northern cities where their role was in part to capture escape slaves and return them to the south. So this was one, you know, we see the origin of sort of police forces in this respect, but that continued after the Civil War and after slavery was prohibited when police were still used primarily to control labor. So in the late 19th and early 20th century, one of the most important roles of police was to suppress strikes to break up unions and to control demonstrations by working people. So actually in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many union leaders saw police as the enemy. And this was one reason why police were actually not welcomed into the main sort of union federations in the early 20th century. They were seen as sort of contradictory to the interests of the union movement. You mentioned a bit earlier that police unions in particular enjoyed a growth of power amongst other public unions. Why were they the beneficiaries most of all? So police unions remain for a number of reasons marginable until the late 1860s. But there's really two developments that change that one is the emergence of these state laws granting public employees collective bargaining rights. The other really important benefit or development that leads to the power of police unions is a backlash politics, what we might call the politics of law in order. That emerge actually in the wake of the civil rights movement in the 1850s and 1960s. This was a conservative political movement that blamed civil rights protests for the unrest and the disorder. It's a very contradictory political message. It's much of the unrest and the disorder was violence inflicted on civil rights activists. But in the political rhetoric, there came to be the idea that when you have a civil rights protest, they always result in violence. And this leads to the increased power of political calls for a crackdown on disorder. Elected officials run for office calling for a crackdown on crime. This is often very racialized to the idea that crime is predominantly a problem in African American and Latino communities in American cities. And there's a political benefit that many elected officials see in running for office based on the idea that they will increase funding for police. They will increase penalties for crime. They will increase investments in the prison system. And this is where we see starting really in the 1970s and taking off in the 1980s and 1990s, an incredible spike in the number of Americans who are incarcerated. So this is the period in which the United States emerges as a world leader, but you're far outstripping other countries in the percentage of our population that is in prison. And with this, we see a spike in police violence and police brutality that is some ways is justified by the argument that the power of police is necessary to prevent this sense of unrest and disorder. So recently, we've returned to a call for law and order from politicians, maybe a swing of the pendulum back from this sense of movement against police brutality that started two and a half years ago. And many people are pointing to a wave of new crime and a successful push to defund the police. Neither of those things are really born out by the facts. But I wonder how this public debate is shaping the agreements police unions are striking with cities. It very much is shaping the agreements. I mean, I lived in the Twin Cities in Minnesota where George Floyd was murdered two and a half years ago. And one thing that was remarkable that we saw in the past few months was the siding of a police contract between the city and the police union that actually gave more protections to police who were charged. So under the new contract, if a complaint is leveled against a police officer for a charge of misconduct, the city is required reveal to the union and to the police officer the identity of the person who filed the complaint. So this was widely seen as a way in which police could intimidate people to lead them to perhaps not file that complaint. And there actually were no provisions included in the new contract that would increase the measures of accountability. So we've seen this very dramatic shift away from these calls for reform. And I think it is true that a lot of that comes from, you know, at the same time that these debates were happening. We did see an uptick in crime. You know, there's a lot of discussion as to what the causes of that crime were. In part, I think it was pretty clearly related to the pandemic. We had high rates of unemployment people out of the labor market. That tends to actually lead to increase in crime. There was a sort of erosion of the social order. People didn't have, you know, there's sort of normal outlets for socializing and social exchange. Those are other things that are associated with increases in crime. So there are reasons for an increase in crime. But in the political rhetoric that was often associated with the call for reform. So the argument was, you know, people were critical of the police. There were calls to defund the police. And that criticism made it harder to recruit police. Police got disillusioned. It made it harder for them to do their jobs. The reality was that there were very few cases in which, you know, funding for police was decreased. In fact, in the Twin Cities funding for police was increased. So we've discussed the origins of police union power and their entrenched political stature and how all of these things might be obstacles to reform. But how have police unions been active in reforming? How have they contributed positively to the reduction of police misconduct? It's interesting to look at sort of in the long term, the arguments for creating police unions in their early 20th century were often based on the idea that unions would be a force for reform. And there were sort of two bases for this argument. One was the idea that if police have better wages and working conditions, they will be more effective in their jobs. It will improve morale. So they, you know, they'll be more interested in sort of serving the public. It will make it easier to recruit people who will be, you know, well trained and sort of socially minded as opposed to people who are poorly trained and sort of not interested in serving the public. So the idea was that just improving conditions for police will lead to reform. Another argument was that unions themselves can provide a level of discipline. And this is an important part of what unions have always done, which is to provide training and accountability to their own members. So one reform that has emerged in the past few years has emerged out of the union movement, the AFL CIO, the large union national union federation has developed what it's called the public safety blueprint for change. And this is really a set of internal guidelines that they ask their members, you know, if they're police officers to sign on to a certain set of standards that they will hold themselves to. And so it's sort of an internal discipline, but I think that the idea that police or police unions can in sort of internally reform themselves is limited, right? I mean, the primary purpose of unions is to protect their members. And so there's some conversation usually at the local level about trying to change the collective bargaining process to ways in which it will provide more oversight. It's probably unfortunately inevitable that another George Floyd event will happen or has happened already several times, but one that will reignite the public consciousness in the face of this future reckoning. What would you recommend that happens on the ground in the municipalities and police unions that could actually really affect change? Well, I do think that increasing public awareness and oversight of the collective bargaining process can have a really important impact. I think finding ways to involve the public in debates over not just the collective bargaining process, but public oversight over police departments can have an important impact. And this is something that actually in some cases police unions have pushed back against and have prohibited by in their collective bargaining process. They've limited the power of community control over police departments. There's a broader conversation to be had about the purpose of police and the function of policing in our society. And the idea that police need to be held accountable and that accountability for police actually increases their ability to choose their jobs. Well, Will Jones, thank you so much for speaking with me on American scale. Thanks, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for focusing on this issue. That was my conversation with William Jones, professor of history at the University of Minnesota, an author of the March on Washington and the Tribe of Black Elysees. From Wondery, this is episode five of the Midnight Crew for American Scan. In our next series, we look at the story of the Oklahoma City Bombing, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in US history. The 1995 attack led to a nationwide manhunt as federal agents scrambled to find the culprits responsible for killing 168 people. But as law enforcement zeroed in on their targets, they would uncover a plot bound together with political extremism, conspiracy theories, and a mission to strike back against the United States government. Hey, prime members, you can listen to American scandal ad free on Amazon music, download the Amazon Music Camp today, or you can listen ad free with Wondery Plus and Apple Podcasts. Before you go, tell us about yourself by completing a short survey at slash survey. American scandal is hosted, edited, and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham for airship, audio editing by Molly Bach, music by Lindsey Graham. This episode was produced by Aloneman Kovsky. Our senior producer is Gabe Riven, executive producers, our Stephanie Jen's, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and Marsha Lewis for Wondery. In 1991, Bakersfield, California, two boys stumble upon a grizzly discovery, the body of a young woman. In the shadows, the new podcast from Wondery Plus follows the ensuing 32-year ordeal to uncover those responsible and bring them to justice. It was a mystery that riveted a desert town for years. Police immediately zeroed in on her long-time boyfriend, a beloved star athlete. Despite national attention and several trials, a conviction of the perpetrator remained elusive, and many thought it would never be solved. During the investigation of In the Shadows, several individuals revealed shocking information previously unknown to authorities. Ultimately, this new insight turned everything on its head and will bring you one step closer to deciding who's responsible for the murder. You can listen to In the Shadows ad.