If they hadn’t been unionized, would the Minneapolis police have killed George Floyd?

Just as I was planning a trip to Minneapolis, the city is embroiled in civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd by four police officers (far more upsetting to me than Covid-19, actually).

Facebook friends who are Democrats blame the murder of Mr. Floyd on Republicans and Donald Trump, which seems odd given that Minneapolis voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (results) and, like other unionized government workers, it seems reasonable to expect that most Minneapolis police officers would vote for Democrats.

Facebook friends who are passionate about Black Lives Matter blame the murder on white supremacy, but how many of the four police officers were actually white? And haven’t there been plenty of murders by police officers and police brutality incidents in which no white people were involved on either side?

At least two of the officers involved had a record of similar conduct, but it would have been almost impossible to fire them due to their union membership. Even in this case, where surveillance video would seem sufficient for all four officers to be arrested and put in jail to await trial for murder, Wikipedia says

The local police union expressed support of the officers involved, saying: “The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis will provide full support to the involved officers.” They also urged the public to remain calm, saying: “Now is not the time to rush to judgement and immediately condemn our officers.

[For citizens who are not police officers, the standard for being arrested and jailed in Minneapolis is apparently fairly low. An older law professor was in jail for three weeks after a false rape accusation, for example. As in a lot of family court domestic violence matters, it was a frustrated desire for cash that seems to have led to the contretemps.]

I was an expert witness on a case in which an electric utility worker for city-owned company had a multi-year track record of mistakes. He kept getting reassigned to positions where the managers thought he wouldn’t be able to do any more damage. While trying to change the password on some “protective relays”, he neglected to “open the trips” that would disconnect them from the transformer breakers while they were being reconfigured. He inadvertently wiped the relays’ configurations, rather than simply changing the passwords. Remarkably, most did not trip, but one did. The result was the multi-hour shutdown of an oil refinery (probably also shut down right now due to coronavirus fears!), leading to $9 million in damage and lost production. He is still a union member and an electric utility employee…

Maybe it is okay for unions to render workers invulnerable in jobs where the worst they can do is inflict major power outages on citizens, businesses, and industrial facilities. But why does the American public tolerate this for police departments? Presumably these four guys would have behaved differently throughout their careers if they knew that firing and losing a multi-$million pension was a realistic possibility. Why aren’t protesters demanding that the police be stripped of their union protections against termination? The average American is an employee at will. Why would that be unfair for police officers?

(Separately, who wants to meet in Eden Prairie or downtown Minneapolis, some time between Sunday evening through Tuesday morning?)

Related:

  • A 2017 killing by the same police department: “On July 15, 2017, Justine Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond, a 40-year-old Australian-American woman, was fatally shot by Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American Minneapolis Police Department officer, after she had called 9-1-1 to report the possible assault of a woman in an alley behind her house. … Occurring weeks after a high-profile manslaughter trial acquittal in the 2016 police shooting of Philando Castile, also in the Twin Cities metro area, the shooting exacerbated existing tensions and attracted national and international press. … Noor had been lauded in the past by Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges and the local Somali community as one of the first Somali-American police officers in the area. … In two years as a police officer, Noor had three formal complaints against him, two of which, as of September 2017, were pending resolution. In a separate case from May 2017, he was being sued for allegedly assaulting a woman while on duty.”
  • Update: “Police Unions And Civilian Deaths” (NPR, June 3)… “After police officers gained access to collective bargaining rights, there was a substantial increase in the killings of civilians — overwhelmingly, nonwhite civilians.”

16 thoughts on “If they hadn’t been unionized, would the Minneapolis police have killed George Floyd?

  1. I am not convinced that this is related to union vs. non-union. Even in union environments and within CBAs there is usually unacceptable behavior that leads to dismissal. I think this has just as much to do with culture and “code of silence” issues. Generally everyone knows who the bad cops, or bad pilots or whatever are… but nobody does anything about it. When the bad CFI crashes with a student all of a sudden there are plenty of people who talk about all the warning signs. Organizations like the police or the army are even tighter.

  2. Here’s an amazing article about requiring police officers to carry individual liability insurance – from 2016:

    https://www.npr.org/2016/06/27/483420607/to-stop-police-lawsuits-reformers-want-officers-to-get-insurance

    “I always equate police work to, like, basketball. If you’re not getting any fouls, you’re not playing hard enough,” says Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis.”

    Wait….read on….

    There are false memes circulating on social media that Chauvin was spotted at a Trump rally carrying a “Make Whites Great Again” sign.

    https://www.palmbeachpost.com/zz/news/20200528/derek-chauvin-minneapolis-officer-at-center-of-george-floyds-death-has-become-subject-of-false-claims-on-social-media

    “The spread of false information was so rampant that the president of the Minneapolis police union set the record straight, telling The Associated Press that none of the officers involved in Monday’s incident were at the Trump rally in Minneapolis last October.”

    To make things even more muddled, there are other photos supposedly identifying Chauvin at a (different) Trump rally. Those are false too — it wasn’t Chauvin, it was the President of the Bloomington, MN Police Union!

    “According to **Minneapolis police union president Lt. Bob Kroll,** the photos actually showed Mike Gallagher, president of the police union in Bloomington, Minnesota.

    The doxxers are working hard on Chauvin and are posting information that he and his wife own a residence in Florida and have a voting record in Florida, with various Twitterers questioning whether he is allowed to vote in Minnesota legally.

    Amazing: Chauvin and Floyd both worked security in different capacities at the same nightclub in south Minneapolis. It’s not clear whether they ever met or knew each other, but they worked at the same joint.

    • As the NPR article notes, the big issue is insurance, not pensions. The police unions worry that if you make the insurance too expensive, cops won’t be aggressive enough in doing their jobs. I expect at least another couple of years worth of study and litigation to result from this catastrophe and we’ll see what gets done.

    • @toD: I don’t think the police unions are going away. If you look at a state like New Jersey, for instance, they have a **lot** of power, soft and hard. The idea that they’re going to give up that power easily is, frankly, a pipedream. The Governor and the mayors rely on close relationships with the police on many, many levels, and it all funnels through the union.

      First there’s the State PBA (NJSPBA) which operates locals in almost every town, many of which do independent fundraising. A lot of that fundraising goes for good things: they support local charities, they host events, they have a lot of officers involved in community outreach, etc., etc. It’s a big deal. This year’s convention is in San Diego (!), assuming it’s COVID-safe by November. $2,099 for a double room for six days. This is where the delegates from each of the Locals in NJ go to meet up every year.

      https://convention.njspba.com/hotel-information/

  3. John Rappaport from the University of Chicago (clerked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg) is going to be in high demand on television and radio.

    https://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/rappaport

    Fascinating transcript regarding the role of insurance companies in police training, conduct and tactics:

    https://www.npr.org/transcripts/705913654

    Where are the free-market “cops should be employees at will” people? I can’t find any! All the people I see criticizing police unions are left and doppler-shift left.

    https://theintercept.com/2018/08/14/police-unions-prison-reform/

  4. Unions are part of it, I used to read the Nassau County NY contracts, sweet deal. Qualified immunity is the other big part. Take away qualified immunity and you wouldnt see bad police behavior on this level.

    • Preliminary report:

      “The autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation. Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death. “

  5. Public sector unions are one of the worst ideas in American history. Here in NYC the schools still have not gone on line because the teachers’ union is against it — obviously afraid that moving classes on line could result in fewer jobs for unionized teachers. The Charter Schools like Success Academy have been on line since 17 March.

  6. It should be easy to verify that this really happened i.e. that it wasn’t one of those awareness-raising hoaxes, that the guy is really dead. Has anyone done so? The cop seems to have a real history and be facing real consequence, so I’m expecting it would all prove out.

  7. It seems that the protesters protesting against the freedom infringing face masks are fine with your freedom curfews. I am going by the lack of, in the current footage, trucks, SUVs and sedition flags the face mask freedom protesters were using

    Would it not have been a better strategy then to implement those freedom curfews for Covid-19 also?

    And by the why, congratulations on finding your supply of tear gas.

  8. Not that I expect it to make any difference, but people really should read the latest (2018) Criminal Victimization report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (US DOJ):

    https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv18.pdf

    Since everything is an epidemic now, people should also read:

    “Don’t Blame Police Racism for America’s Violence Epidemic”
    https://quillette.com/2019/07/27/dont-blame-police-racism-for-americas-violence-epidemic/

    “It is actually more likely for black and Hispanic citizens to be killed by black and Hispanic police officers than by white officers.”

    Will more diversity in the police forces help? Not likely.

    https://www.pnas.org/content/116/32/15877

    “We find no evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities across shootings, and White officers are not more likely to shoot minority civilians than non-White officers. Instead, race-specific crime strongly predicts civilian race. This suggests that increasing diversity among officers by itself is unlikely to reduce racial disparity in police shootings.”

  9. I hope the good citizens of Minneapolis are practicing good social distancing while they’re protesting, looting and firebombing.

    You wouldn’t want to get ticketed or arrested for not wearing a facemask…

  10. Please. Union membership had nothing to do with this. He would have knelt on his neck regardless. Let’s extrapolate this out…we can now expect every cop in a union to commit what amounts to murder.

    Or maybe, it’s just a handful of bad apples.

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