Frey: We need to bust the union contract, not dismantle the police

Jacob Frey might come closest among progressives in Minneapolis to identifying the actual problem with policing in his city, but the mayor still manages to leave some dots unconnected. In an interview with CBS This Morning, Frey insists that he opposes efforts to “defund” or “dismantle” the police and will seek reforms instead. Right now, though, Frey lacks the authority to do either — and fingers the police union for the problem:

Frey goes on to complain about “state law” hamstringing the city from changing the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. “Progressive mayors and chiefs” preceding Frey have tried and failed to get those reforms, but Frey promises to change that. First, however, Frey needs to ask and answer: who exactly negotiated these union contracts and collective bargaining agreements? It wasn’t a statute.

To answer that, let’s take a look at Camden, the example used by many progressives as the model that Minneapolis should follow. However, not only is that a different situation, Camden never “defunded” its police. In fact, Camden only “dismantled” its police force in name only to bust the union — so it could put more cops on the streets, as Stephen Walters reminds us, and its problems involved a lack of force rather than an abuse of force. At the heart of the problem was the Camden police CBA:

At the time, the cop cartel had pumped up average annual costs per officer (including extraordinarily generous fringe benefits) to $182,168. At that monopoly price, poor Camden could afford to employ just 175 cops, and during peak nighttime crime hours only a dozen might be on patrol.

But laying off the union cops and then rehiring many as county employees reduced costs to $99,605 per officer, enabling lots of new hires while keeping total expenditures roughly the same. Within a couple of years, Camden’s force exceeded 400 — a little over 50 cops per 10,000 residents, about triple the national average for similarly sized cities.

So Camden did not “abolish police,” as some of the more radical voices in the current debate claim, but actually employed more police — and more law enforcement. As the now-retired chief who led the transition explained, understaffing had made his city force a “triage unit going from emergency to emergency.” Staffing up enabled more proactive policing (including the use of some surveillance tools that civil libertarians consider problematic).

That made policing in Camden not just more cost-effective but better overall, incorporating training, rules of engagement, and accountability protocols otherwise unaffordable or unacceptable. While its approach has been branded as “community policing,” a great deal of Camden’s crime turnaround came courtesy of what looks like an application of “broken windows theory” (that treating small signs of public disorder can head off larger problems).

One question should be asked about the union contract before Camden busted the union: how did the costs get so high in the first place? It’s because Democrats in charge of Camden had negotiated those contracts with the unions that back Democrats. It’s the same system that created the vast pensions that public-sector workers have that can’t possibly be fully funded now, thanks to ridiculously generous guaranteed benefits. That situation resulted from decades of mutual backscratching between public-employee unions and elected Democratic municipal officials, which continues to this day.

That brings us back to Minneapolis, which has an annual police budget of $193 million for 892 cops. Even if one throws in the 175 civilian employees, that comes up to … $180,880 per employee, about where Camden was when it pulled its three-card union-busting monty. How did it get that high? Again, Democrats negotiated those contracts with their union pals in what seems like anything but an adversarial process. PEUs got Democrats elected, and in exchange negotiated sweetheart deals — and not just for police, but across the board.

That’s another reason for skepticism about “defunding” police in Minneapolis. The aim here is much more likely to bust the union with the threat of pulling a Camden, even if Lisa Bender and the council don’t really have the authority or political juice to pull it off. They want major concessions from the police union, although not likely on costs, in exchange for a political win over accountability.

The CBA isn’t the real “elephant in the room.” The real elephant is the corrupt relationship between Democrats at the municipal level and the public-employee unions that help elect them. That’s the connection that needs busting, but only the voters can do that by dumping their progressive leadership in favor of real accountability.

Here’s the full CBS interview:

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Addendum: Police chief Medaria Arradondo amplified the pressure today by withdrawing from negotiations with the union:

Arradondo said he will withdraw from negotiations with the Minneapolis Police Federation, and bringing advisers to see how the contract can be restructured for greater transparency and changes.

“I need to as chief step away from the table with the Minneapolis Police Federation and really take a deep dive in terms of how we can do something that is historically been something that is in the way of progress, that I’ve been hearing from many in our city,” Arradondo said. “…It’s time that we have to evolve.”

Arradondo said the focus will be toward significant aspects of the contract like use of force, the “significant” role supervisors play, and the discipline process, including grievances and arbitration.

“I believe I speak for my chief peers here in the state of Minnesota, as well as across our country, that there is nothing more debilitating to an employment matter from a chief’s perspective, that when you have grounds to terminate an officer for misconduct and you’re dealing with a third-party mechanism that allows for that employee to not only be back at the department, but to be patrolling in your communities.” he said.

Get ready for a very big battle … between traditional allies.

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