Employment Struggles for Ex-Offenders New Focus of CA Legislation

The good news is that the California Department of Corrections offers program to help inmates become opticians.

The bad news is that there are four different state statutes that allow the state to refuse to license an ex-offender as an optician, established in explicit language in the law.

It’s the riddle of reform, as California’s prison inmate population dropped 17 percent between 2005 and 2014 while the number of individuals on parole dipped 61 percent.

Where do they go, though?

Ineligible for employment

Both stats are relatively sunny reflections on Gov. Brown and the state Assembly’s effort to reduce both crime and criminals.

Among other things, the state hiked credits toward early release for non-violent and minimum custody offenders and established a new parole system for non-violent second time criminals.

But if you’re looking for a job and have been convicted of a crime involving a controlled substance – and this includes marijuana– forget about getting work on an ambulance crew, a litter van, or a wheelchair van. You could become a real estate broker, a midwife or a speech pathologist, but you’d have to make a case for it.

Any misdemeanor will keep you from working at as a smog check station attendant, a locksmith, a repo man or board member of a humane society.

The information comes from a database assembled by the American Bar Association. Users can search dictates in each state for how a conviction of a variety of crimes can affect a person’s ability to get a job, a business license, a judicial position, housing, education and 10 other endeavors.

The findings can be comforting – someone with a felony conviction can’t serve on a grand jury – and amusing, as a felon is also ineligible to participate in the cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions.

Contradictions in law

The database also exposes the contradictions in the law regarding employment restrictions on inmates. In California, “not much work has been done on fixing the employment and licensure issues,” said W. David Ball, an associate professor at Santa Clara University School of Law.

“These laws are generally written broadly, and there are laws that are easy to understand, like you would not want someone who was involved with financial fraud to be a CPA,” Ball said. “But it makes no sense that someone convicted of drunk driving can’t be a cosmetologist.”

The ABA database is part of a broad effort to loosen restrictions on ex-offenders. There is a national move to create a bill in all states forcing them to examine their laws regarding ex-offenders and employment. Advocates claim passage would bring recidivism rates down.

In California, 61 percent of felons returned to prison within three years, according to a 2014 annual state report on recidivism.

The study found that “inmates committed to prison for property crimes consistently recidivate at a higher rate than those committed for other types of crimes, including crimes against persons, drug crimes, and ‘other’ crimes.”

The move to a national retooling of restrictions on ex-offenders is not welcomed by all parts of the legal community.

Too soft on criminals?

“This was like a liberal do-gooder thing,” James Bopp, a Terre Haute, Ind., lawyer told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. “The law is constructed in a way to grossly favor the criminal who is seeking relief from these collateral effects of their conviction.”

The passage in November of Proposition 47 pruned the ranks of the incarcerated even more, as the law softened criminal classifications for some crimes including drug possession and shoplifting. It also made the theft and reception of stolen goods under $950 a misdemeanor.

Under Prop. 47, part of the projected $400 million to $700 million projected to be saved statewide by cutting down on the state’s incarceration bill is to be spent on mental health and substance abuse services.

Such services, while they can help treat an ex-offender, also exclude the ex-offender community: A misdemeanor conviction excludes a person from becoming a vocational nurse, treating an adolescent in a drug treatment program or obtaining a psychiatric technician license.

Additional legislation

Lawmakers are still making adjustments to the effects of the bill, plugging holes and shaping the mandate. Some are concerned that a provision in the measure would allow the theft of a gun to be lumped in with stealing a bag of Twizzlers in the under $950 category.

A measure authored by state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani is winding its way through the statehouse, seeking to fix that, making the theft of any firearm a crime not subject to the parameters of Prop. 47.

Another bill, SB205, looks to fund a university study of the effects of Prop. 47.

Still another bill, SB527, seeks to allocate money from the expected corrections savings for truancy and dropout prevention, funding over four jobs for that task alone.

Collateral consequences are also often unintended consequences, said Ball, the associate professor at the Santa Clara law school.

“I’d like to raise the bar higher so you have to make a case for ‘why not?’ rather than reasons to impose,” Ball said. “These collateral consequences really do prevent people from starting over.”

Steve Miller can be reached at 517-775-9952 and [email protected]. His website is www.Avalanche50.com

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Pension Reformers are not “The Enemy” of Public Safety

“You will find that powerful financial and investment institutions are the ones promoting the attacks on your pensions. Firms like Berkshire-Hathaway and the Koch brothers are backing political candidates and causes all over the country in the hopes of making this issue relevant and in the mainstream media. Why? Because if they can crack your pension and turn it into a 401(k), they will make billions. Your pension is the golden egg that they are dying to get their hands upon. By the way, it was those same financial geniuses that brought about the Great Recession in the first place. After nearly collapsing the entire financial system of western civilization, they successfully managed to deflect the blame off of themselves and onto government employee pay/benefits.” – Jim Foster, Vice President, Long Beach Police Officers Association, posted on PubSec Alliance website

These comments form the conclusion to a piece published by Foster entitled “What does ‘unfunded liability’ mean?,” published on PubSecAlliance.com, an online “community of law enforcement associations and unions.” If you review the “supporters” page, you can see that the website’s “founding members,” “affiliated organizations,” and “other groups whose membership is pending” are all law enforcement unions.

public employee union pensionIn Foster’s discussion of what constitutes an unfunded pension liability, he compares the liability to a mortgage, correctly pointing out that like a mortgage, an unfunded pension liability can be paid down over many years. But Foster fails to take into account the fact that a mortgage can be negotiated at a fixed rate of interest, whereas a pension liability will grow whenever the rates earned by the pension system’s investments fall short of expectations. When the average taxpayer signs a 30 year fixed mortgage, they don’t expect to suddenly find out their payments have doubled, or tripled, or gone up by an order of magnitude. But that’s exactly what’s happened with pensions.

Apart from ignoring this crucial difference between mortgages and unfunded pension liabilities, Foster’s piece makes no mention of the other reason unfunded pension liabilities have grown to alarming levels, the retroactive enhancements to the pension benefit formula – enhancements gifted to public employees and imposed on taxpayers starting in 1999. These enhancements were made at precisely the same time as the market was delivering unsustainable gains engineered by, as Foster puts it, the “same financial geniuses that brought about the Great Recession in the first place,” and “nearly collapsing the entire financial system of western civilization.”

This is a huge failure of logic. Foster is suggesting that the Wall Street crowd is to blame for the unfunded liabilities of pensions, but ignoring the fact that these unfunded liabilities are caused by (1) accepting the impossible promises made by Wall Street investment firms during the stock market bubbles and using that to justify financially unsustainable (and retroactive) benefit formula enhancements, and (2) basing the entire funding analysis for pension systems on rates of return that can only be achieved by relying on stock market bubbles – i.e., doomed to crash.

You can’t blame “Wall Street” for the financial challenges facing pension funds, yet demand benefits based on financial assumptions that only those you taint as Wall Street charlatans are willing to promote.

Foster ignores the fact that the stock market bubbles (2000, 2008, and 2014) were inflated then reflated by lowering interest rates and accumulating debt to stimulate the economy. But interest rates cannot go any lower. When the market corrects, and pension funds start demanding even larger annual payments to fund pensions and OPEB that now average over $100,000 per year for California’s full-career public safety retirees, Foster and his ilk are going to have a lot of explaining to do.

There is a deeper, more ominous context to Foster’s remarks, however, which is the power that government unions, especially public safety unions, wield over politicians and over public perception. The navigation bar of the website that published his essay, PubSecAlliance, is but a mild reminder of the power police organizations now have over the political process. Items such as “Intel Report,” “Pay Wars,” “Tactics,” “Tales of Triumph,” and “The Enemy” are examples of resources on this website.

When reviewing PubSecAlliance’s reports on “enemies,” notwithstanding the frightening reality of police organizations keeping lists of political enemies, were any of the people and organizations listed selected despite the fact that they were staunch supporters of law enforcement? Because pension reformers and government union reformers are not “enemies” of law enforcement, or government employees, or government programs in general. There is no connection.

Here are a few points for Jim Foster to consider, along with his leadership colleagues at the Long Beach Police Officers Association, and police union members everywhere.

TEN POINTS FOR MEMBERS OF PUBLIC SAFETY UNIONS TO CONSIDER

(1)  Not all pension reformers want to abolish the defined benefit. Restoring the more sustainable pension benefit formulas in use prior to 1999, and adopting conservative rate-of-return assumptions would make the defined benefit financially sustainable and fair to taxpayers.

(2)  Over the long term, the real, inflation-adjusted return on investments cannot be realistically expected to exceed the rate of national and global economic growth. You are being sold a 7.0 percent (or more) annual rate of return because it is an excuse to keep your normal contribution artificially low, and mislead politicians into thinking pension systems are financially sound.

(3)  As noted, you can’t blame “Wall Street” for the financial challenges facing pension funds, yet demand benefits based on financial assumptions that only those you taint as Wall Street charlatans are willing to promote.

(4)  If public safety employers didn’t have to pay 50 percent or more of payroll into the pension funds – normal and unfunded contributions combined – there would be money to hire more public safety employees, improving their own safety and better protecting the public.

(5)  Public safety personnel are eyewitnesses every day to the destructive effects of failed social welfare programs that destroy families, ineffective public schools with unaccountable unionized teachers, and a flawed immigration policy that prioritizes the admission of millions of unskilled immigrants over those with valuable skills. They ought to stick their necks out on these political issues, instead of invariably fighting exclusively to increase their pay and benefits.

(6)  The solution to the financial challenges facing all workers, public and private, is to lower the cost of living through competitive development of land, energy, water and transportation assets. Just two examples: rolling back CEQA hindrances to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach, or construct indirect potable water reuse assets in San Jose. Where are the police and firefighters on these critical issues? Creating inexpensive abundance through competition and development helps all workers, instead of just the anointed unionized government elite.

(7)  If pension funds were calibrated to accept 5.0 percent annual returns, instead of 7.0 percent or more, they could be invested in revenue producing infrastructure such as dams, desalination plants, sewage distillation and reuse, bridges, and port expansion, to name a few – all of which have the potential yield 5.0 percent per year to investors, but usually not 7.0 percent.

(8)  Government unions are partners with Wall Street and other crony capitalist interests. The idea that they are opposed to each other is one of the biggest frauds in American history. Government unions control local politicians, who award contracts, regulate and inspect businesses, float bond issues, and preserve financially unsustainable pension benefits. This is a gold mine to financial special interests, and to large corporate interests who know that the small businesses lack the resources to comply with excessive regulations or afford lobbyists.

(9)  Government unions elect their bosses, they wield the coercive power of the state, they favor expanded government and expanded compensation for government employees which is an intrinsic conflict of interest, and they protect incompetent (or worse) government employees. They should be abolished. Voluntary associations without collective bargaining rights would still have plenty of political influence.

(10)  Expectations of security have risen, the value of life has risen, the complexity of law enforcement challenges has risen, and the premium law enforcement officers should receive as a result has also risen. But unaffordable pensions, along with the consequent excessive payments of overtime, have priced public safety compensation well beyond what qualified people are willing to accept. Saying this does not make us “The Enemy.”

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

SF Disability Discrimination Case Could Hobble Law Enforcement Nationwide

adaThe Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990, was the product of good intentions. Its proponents — President George H.W. Bush chief among them — wanted to eliminate arbitrary barriers to the physically disabled. “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” Bush solemnly declared at the legislation’s signing ceremony. The ADA sailed through Congress with little resistance. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with federal do-goodery, those good intentions produced a poorly drafted statute full of vague definitions, ambiguous obligations, and complicated enforcement schemes, made even worse by byzantine enabling regulations and far-fetched judicial interpretations.

Twenty-five years later, the true consequences of the ADA are still unfolding. Hijacked by trial lawyers, government bureaucrats, and activist judges, the noble goals of the ADA have brought instead a host of other absurdities: costly and ubiquitous (and largely unused) curb cuts and ramps in public areas; Braille buttons on drive-through ATMs; alcoholic pilots and truck drivers, deaf lifeguards, and one-legged firefighters; drug-addicted employees who can’t be fired, lest employers “discriminate” against a “protected class”; and serial litigants — some of whom have filed thousands of lawsuits — who make a cottage industry out of fly-specking small businesses’ compliance with arcane and prolix structural requirements for bathrooms and parking lots. Much to the likely chagrin of the ADA’s proponents, the definition of “disabled” is not limited to people in wheelchairs — it includes those suffering from morbid obesity, drug addiction, phobias, allergies, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and dyslexia. Of the estimated 43 million “disabled” Americans protected by the ADA, fewer than 2 percent are in wheelchairs, the vast majority of whom reside in nursing homes.

Employers must “reasonably accommodate” this thicket of disabilities by restructuring job duties, granting leaves, providing technological support, hiring assistants, granting reassignments, making “individualized determinations,” and entering into “interactive dialogues,” all while ignoring “discriminatory customer preferences” and, of course, “traditional stereotypes” (no matter how well-founded). The ADA essentially requires employers to function as social workers and ignore the economic burden unless it constitutes an “undue hardship.” In short, the ADA has short-circuited common sense.

Alas, critics have railed against the asininity — and astronomical compliance costs — of the ADA, to no avail. Despite their most dire predictions about the law’s nonsensical potential those critics had no inkling of the ridiculous extremes that were yet to come, thanks to an inventive ruling of the San Francisco-based U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last year, in Sheehan v. San Francisco, the Ninth Circuit held that the ADA applies to law-enforcement officers, and requires them to “accommodate” armed, violent suspects if they are “mentally ill” (and therefore “disabled”). The case arose from an incident in 2008 involving two female police officers who were responding to a call for assistance by a social worker at a group home for the mentally ill. The social worker had been threatened with a knife by one of the residents under his care, a middle-aged woman with schizophrenia named Teresa Sheehan (whose condition had deteriorated because she refused to take her medication). The social worker wanted to have Sheehan involuntarily committed for 72 hours for evaluation and treatment, and requested that the police transport her to the mental health facility for that purpose. When the officers arrived, Sheehan became violent, grabbed a knife, and threatened to kill the officers. The officers drew their weapons and unsuccessfully attempted to subdue Sheehan with pepper spray. In the course of trying to arrest Sheehan (who was still brandishing the knife), the officers shot her several times. Sheehan survived, and sued the officers (and the City of San Francisco) in federal court for various claims, including violation of the ADA. Sheehan did not dispute that she was armed and violent. She alleged, however, that “the officers should have respected her comfort zone, engaged in non-threatening communications and used the passage of time to defuse the situation.” The federal district judge, Charles Breyer (younger brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer), dismissed the case before trial on summary judgment. Sheehan appealed.

The Ninth Circuit ruled, as a matter of first impression, that the ADA applies to all arrests, even those involving violent confrontations, and that a jury should decide whether the officers “reasonably accommodated” the violent, knife-wielding suspect “by employing generally accepted police practices for peaceably resolving a confrontation with a person with mental illness.” The city appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case on March 23. The city contends that the ADA should not apply to police conduct when public safety is at risk. According to the FBI, about 400 people are killed each year by police—as justifiable homicides in the exercise of deadly force. Sadly, at least half the people killed by the police have mental health problems of some sort, according to a 2013 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Do we want juries second-guessing hundreds of police encounters each year to determine if armed, violent suspects were mentally ill and if the police “reasonably accommodated” the suspects? Police officers are not psychiatrists. They cannot be expected to diagnose whether a violent suspect is mentally ill or merely mean and aggressive. People who threaten to kill the police are by definition unreasonable and even irrational. Some social scientists believe that all criminals are emotionally disturbed; should this entitle them to special treatment by law enforcement? Hamstringing the police endangers public safety. Split-second decisions made in violent confrontations with armed suspects are not suitable for Monday morning quarterbacking. If the Supreme Court does not reverse the Ninth Circuit’s ludicrous decision in Sheehan v. San Francisco, the errant intentions of the ADA will have succeeded in disabling the police.

Should citizens be allowed to videotape police in action?

Faced with mounting criticism over civil liberties abuses, lawmakers in Sacramento greenlit a so-called clarification of Californians’ right to videotape and photograph police officers on the job.

Senate Bill 411, introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, protects the practice so long as active bystanders are “not interfering with official duties,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

videotaping policeAccording to the bill’s language, “the fact that a person takes a photograph or makes an audio or video recording of an executive officer, while the officer is in a public place or the person taking the photograph or making the recording is in a place he or she has the right to be, is not, in and of itself, a violation[.]”

What’s more, Lara’s bill set out that photographing or videotaping police in that matter would not “constitute reasonable suspicion to detain the person or probable cause to arrest the person.”

Setting a trend

Passing 31-3 in the state Senate, SB411 headed to the Assembly, setting up California to become a possible trendsetter in the way citizen monitoring of police could be treated. Currently, no national consensus has formed around the issue, leaving legislative momentum up for grabs at the state level.

Although settled constitutional law has recognized both a right to videotape and a right to prevent interference with policing, widespread departures from that standard have prompted state lawmakers to intervene. In Colorado, for instance, a recent bill “proposed making it a crime for police to stop citizens from filming,” as the Daily Beast observed.

But, across the country, pieces of legislation have run into trouble regardless of which side of the debate they favor. In Connecticut, for instance, a bill permitting “lawsuits against police officers who interfere with those photographing or videotaping them during the performance of their duties was blocked Monday by Republicans in the judiciary committee,”according to the Hartford Courant.

In Texas, meanwhile, a police-friendly “cop-watcher” bill drew fire from legal observers, journalists, gun owners and others:

Dallas-area House representative Jason Villalba introduced HB 2918, which would make it a misdemeanor to photograph police within 25 feet — raising serious concerns that the bill, if passed, would violate the First Amendment and prevent individuals from holding police accountable. For Texans legally carrying a firearm, the buffer zone required would be 100 feet under Villalba’s proposal.

Halting progress

As Calwatchdog.com previously reported, Sacramento has labored to keep up with changing technology, police tactics and public opinion. In January, several Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation around the use of on-cop bodycams. By videotaping situations police entered into, the logic ran, misconduct would decrease at the same time that police gained clear evidence of proper conduct that could help prevent lawsuits or help resolve them to the departments’ benefit.

police-body-cameraAttorney General Kamala Harris, for her part, has long considered police abuses to be an important part of her political and legal agenda — a stance that could gain prominence as her bid to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer draws more potent challengers.

Despite widespread support for bodycams among Democrats, along with many libertarians and some Republicans, the policy has attracted its share of problems. In Los Angeles, where Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti blazed a path toward standardizing the equipment, concern has persisted over the use of cloud storage, as Southern California Public Radio reported:

“Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will present this month his proposed city budget for the coming year. It’s expected to include money for body cameras for all Los Angeles Police Department officers. But some security analysts argue the LAPD’s plan to store body camera video in the cloud could make the images more vulnerable to attack than if the department placed them on its local servers.”

As yet, the question of cloud storage for recordings of police has not yet threatened to stall the progress of SB411  in Sacramento.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Bill Seeks to Give DNA Collection Powers Back to Police

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Police officers would regain powers to collect DNA that a voter-approved initiative stripped away under legislation announced Thursday by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, with the backing of district attorneys and lawmakers from both parties.

“Forensic DNA is the greatest tool ever given to law enforcement to find the guilty and to exonerate the innocent,” Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at an event announcing Assembly Bill 390.

In overwhelmingly approving Proposition 47 in November, Californians endorsed more lenient sentences for crimes like theft and drug possession, reducing them from felonies to misdemeanors. That reduced the reach of a program allowing officers to take the genetic information of suspects arrested for felonies. The Department of Justice estimates Proposition 47 has already diminished the rate of DNA collection by 10 to 20 percent. …

 

Police Face New Rules When Seizing Money From Drug Suspects

As reported by the Orange County Register:

Local police are scrambling to fill the financial hole left in their drug-fighting resources by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to stop allowing them to take cash and property from suspected dealers without warrants or convictions.

Holder’s decision is limited to federal asset forfeiture rules. And for regional task forces that include federal agents – such as the Orange County Regional Narcotics Suppression Program – there may be no change. Local police departments increasingly might use state forfeiture programs that offer more protection for defendants.

Holder said in his announcement last week he was attempting to safeguard civil liberties. …

Read the full story here

What’s the Real Reason for Police Understaffing in San Diego?

Whenever there is a shortage of police personnel in a California city, a common reason cited is inadequate pay. When officers at a particular agency are paid less than their counterparts at some other agency, so the theory goes, they quit in order to start working where they can make more. This seems to be sound logic. But is it supported by facts? According to a new study “Analysis of the Reasons for San Diego Police Department Employee Departures,” released last week by the California Policy Center, the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” Authored by Robert Fellner, research director for the Transparent California project, the study’s findings contradicted the conventional wisdom. They were:

  • Claims that SDPD officers were leaving to join other departments misrepresented the data on attrition, by focusing on the 10% who left to join other departments, instead of the 60% who retired.
  • These claims also misrepresented the overall data regarding staffing and recruitment, focusing on approximately 20 people leaving in a department of nearly 1,800 while ignoring the fact that there were 3,000 applicants for open 25 positions.
  • In support of these claims, a misleading study, funded by the city of San Diego, only analyzed base pay, the only category of pay San Diego didn’t boost in their 2014 pay raises for the SDPD.
  • This same study compared San Diego to one of the most expensive cities in the world – San Francisco and other totally different markets, instead of comparing SDPD pay to rates of pay in neighboring cities.

One thing that is not in serious debate is the fact that the San Diego Police Department is understaffed, like many other police departments in California. But the reason they are understaffed is a result of poor recruitment efforts. Fellner writes:

“The City’s ability to recruit new candidates would be seriously compromised when budget decisions in FY 2009 and FY 2010 resulted in the City cutting its quarterly academy class sizes from 50 to 25. In FY 2011 the City cancelled all but one academy class, a decision that ‘resulted in a lost opportunity to add approximately 57 additional recruits.’ And what did happen after the hiring freeze of 2011 ended? The SDPD received over 3,000 applicants for just 25 positions in its first academy class of 2012, according to 10News. This is symptomatic of a larger trend – a tremendous, unmet demand to work in law enforcement in the San Diego area. For example, the following year the nearby San Diego County Sheriff’s Department received over 4,000 applicants for their 275 deputy positions.”

There is no shortage of people who want to work in law enforcement in San Diego. Surely a few hundred of these many thousands of applicants are qualified to do the work.

While the facts don’t support the assertion that San Diego is losing police officers to other departments, the facts do support an alarming loss of officers to retirement, a problem that is getting worse. But if recruitment isn’t a problem, what difference does it make if officers retire in great numbers? The problem is the cost for these retirements take away funds that could be used to pay for more police academy classes, and more active officers on the force. To fund an adequately staffed police force, San Diego could have reduced retirement formulas to the levels they were back in the 1990’s – i.e., reducing them back to levels that are fair and financially sustainable. Instead, to induce veteran officers to delay retiring, San Diego joined several other California cities in implementing “DROP,” which stands for “Deferred Retirement Option Program.”

In general, the way DROP works is this:  A retirement eligible employee agrees to freeze their retirement benefit accrual and continue to work, usually for five more years. Then, while they continue to work for the city and get paid as an active employee, the pension they would be earning if they had retired is paid into an interest bearing account. When they retire, the entire amount accrued in that pension account is paid to them in a lump sum, and from then on they begin to directly collect their pension.

Take a look at Transparent California’s listing of San Diego’s pension payouts in 2013. Nearly all of the top pensions are police and fire personnel who received massive lump sum payments under the DROP program. This is a scandalous waste of money. The primary reason SDPD officers leave their department is to retire. So instead of investing in recruitment efforts to replace retirees, the San Diego implemented the DROP program, at staggering expense, to retain veterans a little longer.

As always, the power behind these distortions of logic and perversions of policy are the government unions. Unlike the police officers themselves, who almost invariably want to serve their communities and make a positive difference in people’s lives, government unions thrive on fomenting resentment and alienation. The more anger they can manipulate their members into feeling, the more righteous indignation those members will bring to city council meetings, and the more dues they will willingly pay to purchase candidates for local office. Ultimately, what government unions thrive on is the failure of government, because the worse things get, the more money they will demand to fix the problems.

Inadequate pay is not the reason SDPD has a staffing shortage. Excessive pensions, the staggering expense of DROP, and a failure to fund recruitment efforts are the reasons why. The unions would have you think otherwise.

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Conservatives, Police Unions, and the Future of Law Enforcement

Conservatives in America are at a crossroads. They face a choice between greater freedom or greater security. While striking this delicate balance has required ongoing policy choices throughout history, recent events involving law enforcement have brought these choices into sharp focus. Here’s how Patrik Johnson, writing last month in the Christian Science Monitor, described the choice:

“Police forces nationwide are being pulled between two opposite trends: more empathetic, community policing and an increasingly militarized response to crises.”

How conservatives, on balance, weigh in on this choice has far reaching consequences. On one hand, conservatives can support suggested reforms that embrace the value of empathy, minimize violence, alleviate tensions, and pave the way for 21st century policing appropriate to a free republic. Here is a key reform advocated by the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, in reaction to the tensions in that city following a police shooting:

“A comprehensive review by the Department of Justice into systematic abuses by police departments and the development of specific use of force standards and accompanying recommendations for police training, community involvement and oversight strategies and standards for independent investigatory/disciplinary mechanisms when excessive force is used.”

Conservatives may scoff at some of the other demands – such as guaranteed “full employment for our people,” which, for starters, goes well beyond police reform. But conservatives better think twice before deciding there is no merit to any of the concerns of activist groups who have been animated, across the nation, by alleged excessive use of force by police.

Because there is a dark, shamefully pragmatic alternative course for conservatives. They can choose to fan the flames of racial animosity and fear, secure in believing that excessive force may never touch their communities. But excessive use of force by police is not primarily a racial issue. Ask the families of Kelly Thomas, or David Silva, or Kevin Hughey, or hundreds of others.

The issue, bigger than race, is this: Are we going to evolve into a nation where police are trained to use nonlethal force, trained to practice “empathic, community policing,” or not? And are we going to be a nation where police are held accountable if they cross the line, or not?

Which brings us to the fact that most law enforcement agencies in the United States today are unionized. These unions are politically active, and they tend to lean conservative in their political contributions. The practical choice conservatives face is stark: Do they want to take money from police unions not just in exchange for ignoring the serious financial challenges caused by their excessive pension benefits, but also in exchange for ignoring calls to better regulate use of excessive force?

Challenging the agenda of police unions will not only cost politicians their financial support. In some cases it can even earn their active retaliation. A troubling article by Lucy Caldwell, in a National Review article entitled “Police Unions Behaving Badly,” documents how a local politician in California was harassed after standing up to them in contract negotiations. And as Caldwell notes, “police unions are able to operate with absolutely no transparency because they are classified as private entities not subject to public-records laws.”

There are many reasons government unions, especially law enforcement unions, are problematic in a democracy. But when the teachers union in California went on record deploring the education reforms upheld in the Vergara decision – everyone, liberals and conservatives alike, saw them for who they are – a lobbying group that is more concerned about protecting bad teachers than they are about educating children.

Members of law enforcement themselves, perhaps even more than teachers, ought to be, and usually are, highly motivated to make a contribution to society. They have a strong sense of right and wrong, and justifiably feel there is a moral worth to the jobs they do and the profession they’ve chosen. So why are they letting their unions fight reforms that will weed out bad cops, and implement training and oversight programs that will result in fewer lives lost and lowered tensions in the communities they serve?

Conservatives can seize this opportunity to find the strength of their most enlightened convictions. They can join with liberals to reform and evolve law enforcement in the U.S. And in so doing they can help liberals to see how the agenda of government unions is in inherent conflict with the public interest – in law enforcement as well as in education. And they can start to work towards broader reforms as part of a powerful new coalition.

Alternatively, conservatives can revert to an ugly, divisive, racially tinged, belligerent message, endorsing security at any cost. They may reap short term political and financial gains from such a strategy. But they will further divide this nation, and in the long run, discredit themselves irrevocably.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.