With the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death upon us, defunding police is still a major topic of discussion in this country. There are two major reasons for constituents to be upset with a department that should be a source of pride and prioritization. One, there are bad cops and deputy sheriffs. Two, they are supported by union leaders who lie and cover up, thus enabling and encouraging bad behavior by their members.
Police unions fund the campaigns of city council members and county supervisors who then become beholden to their demands. When they lie in campaign mailers, it sends a message to the rank-and-file. What has all their disappointing rancor wrought?
Ironically, it is public safety unions themselves that have begun the process of defunding their departments. Two decades ago, police and firefighter unions demanded a 50 percent increase in retirement benefits, retroactive to the date of hire, resulting from Senate Bill 400 (1999) and subsequent pension plan legislation. SB 400 is a bill former Governor Gray Davis now deeply regrets having signed. Subsequently, the majority of California’s cities have already reduced the staffing of police and fire departments by 25 percent.
For public employee unions, the last person hired is usually the first person laid off. Downsizing is not determined by excellence, it is based on longevity. So new police officers are baffled that prior city councils voted to implement such an enormous benefit enhancement when it is the new recruits that lose their jobs to provide the necessary funding for the annual pension plan contribution.
Public safety costs comprise 50 percent or more of many cities’ annual budgets. Such is the cost of greed. This growing financial ulcer in city budgets is crowding out other necessary services, let alone reducing police and fire response times.
George Floyd communicated that he could not breathe. He needed to be calmed down. But he did not need to be asphyxiated to death at the hands of a Minnesota police officer who had a record of being a bad cop.
I served as an Orange County Supervisor from December 2006 to January 2015. My first encounter with the phrase, “I can’t breathe,” was in the summer of 2011. It was from a heart-breaking audio and video account of Fullerton police officers taking the law into their own hands and beating homeless and schizophrenic Kelly Thomas to death.
The next year, an Orange County Deputy Sheriff would fire into the SUV of Marine Sgt. Manny Loggins, Jr. Sgt. Loggins needed to calm down, but he did not need to be killed. A bullet to a tire would have been safer. Or just waiting for him to turn his vehicle around. Tragic. More tragic, his two daughters were in the seat behind him and watched their father take the bullet and succumb.
On October 5, 2006, John Derek Chamberlain was killed by fellow inmates in the Theo Lacy Jail. It occurred under the supposed watchful eyes of Deputy Sheriffs. Regretfully, they looked the other way while fellow inmates jumped from a high bunk onto Chamberlain, breaking nearly every rib in his chest before he was unable to breathe. Consequently, I established the County’s Office of Independent Review to improve the culture in the jails.
This may also help you understand why, as a State Senator, I voted for legislation dealing with inappropriate use of force by law enforcement officers, like AB 392 (Weber, 2019) and SB 230 (Caballero, 2019). And why I was a co-author of SB 1421 (Skinner, 2019), requiring disclosure of personnel records for certain acts by peace officers and custodial officers.
We all know we have good public safety officials and we appreciate them immensely. But it is the bad eggs that cause riots in the streets when use of force is taken to the ultimate extreme. Regretfully, bad cops reflect their leadership.
Those who want to serve in elected office in a fair and balanced way and do not kowtow to police unions do so at the peril of their electability. I can provide too many stories of union intimidation of candidates and elected officials.
They are so successful in their political power that out of 120 of last year’s California State Legislators, 119 accepted contributions from police unions. I was the only one who did not. Why? Because I represented the taxpayers, not this self-serving special interest. Being well funded by dues and not hesitating to stretch the truth in mailers and hit pieces reflects an arrogance. This behavior from the top sends a message to those officers working on the streets.
It is time for all of us to reflect on how best to pursue excellence in public safety practices and properly address those in uniform who may need to find another profession. This starts at the top. And if police unions demand to control the Police Chiefs and city councils of our cities, then it starts with them.
We do not need to defund police departments. We need to defund police unions. They should not be using untruthful campaign materials to determine who their potential bosses will be. It is just too expensive and the balance sheets of more than half of California’s cities reflect the fiscal damage.
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