If Police Unions Were Abolished and Police Associations Were Restored

Earlier this month the New York Times ran an editorial entitled “When Police Unions Impede Justice.” They make the point that collective bargaining agreements for police employees often make it very difficult to hold police officers accountable for misconduct. When you have nearly 1.0 million sworn police officers in the United States, you’re bound to have a few bad apples. According to the NYT, these collective bargaining agreements discourage citizens from lodging misconduct complaints, micromanage investigations, and minimize disciplinary sanctions.

This isn’t news. It’s one of the reasons collective bargaining agreements for police officers are especially problematic. The other big problem with collective bargaining agreements for members of public safety are the often excessive and unaffordable benefit packages they’ve “negotiated” with the politicians whose careers are made or broken by these same unions. So what if police unions were abolished?

One may argue that abolishing police unions in favor of police associations – which could not engage in collective bargaining – would actually benefit all parties. An immediate benefit would be greater accountability for police officers. Why wouldn’t greater individual accountability be supported by the overwhelming majority of police officers who are conscientious, humane, compassionate members of the communities they serve? In turn, why wouldn’t greater police accountability foster rapprochement in neighborhoods where mistrust has developed between citizens and law enforcement?

With respect to pay and benefits for police officers, the risks of abolishing collective bargaining may be overstated. As it is, rates of base pay for police officers are not excessive by market standards. If they were, it would be easier to hire police officers. The primary economic problem with police compensation is retirement benefits, which in California now easily average over $100,000 per year for officers retiring in their 50’s after 25+ years of service. As the unions defend these excessive pensions, younger officers are left with far less generous benefits. The perpetually escalating contributions the pension funds demand – for all public employees – are behind virtually all tax increases being proposed in California. It can’t go on.

So abolishing collective bargaining for police would lead to several benefits (1) more police accountability and improved community relations, (2) minimal impact on base police pay, and (3) quicker resolution of financial challenges facing pensions, which will increase the probability that the defined benefit will be preserved, and will increase the potential retirement benefit available to the incoming generation of new police officers.

Apart from ending collective bargaining agreements, abolishing police unions in no way abolishes the ability of police officers to organize in voluntary associations to pursue common professional and political objectives. Before we had unionized police forces, police associations were very influential in civic affairs and could be again. And there are broader political objectives that may animate these police associations, beyond protecting bad cops and fighting for financially unsustainable retirement benefits. Police and other public safety employees, whether they are part of a union or part of a voluntary association, should think carefully about where the United States is headed. This is especially true in California.

The most dangerous risk of politically active police unions is the fact that whenever government fails, whenever our common culture is undermined, whenever social programs breed more problems than they solve, we need to hire more police officers. And whenever government expands to regulate and manage more aspects of our lives, we need to hire more police officers. Social upheaval and authoritarian government create jobs for police officers. For a police union that wants more members, a failing society and an authoritarian government suits their agenda.

For this reason, police officers have a choice to make. Do they really want to enforce the laws emanating from the climate extremists, the tolerance extremists, the sensitivity extremists, the equality extremists, the multi-cultural extremists – the entire ostensibly anti-extremist extremist gang of elitists who currently control public policy in California? Do they want to deploy drones to monitor whether or not someone got a permit to install a window in their bathroom, or watered their lawn on the wrong day? Do they want to fine or arrest people who aren’t willing to adhere to speech codes, or who refuse to hire less qualified employees in order to fulfill race and gender quotas? Do they want to police a society that has fragmented irretrievably because we continued to import millions of unskilled, destitute individuals from hostile cultures, than indoctrinated their children in union-ran public schools to falsely believe they live in a racist, sexist society?

It’s a tough choice. Will politically active police organizations redirect some of their resources to support policies that might actually reduce the number of police we need? Abolishing collective bargaining may make the right choice easier, because police will then be less immune to the economic and social havoc the elitists are currently imposing on the rest of us.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.


Appreciating Police Officers, Challenging Police Unions, July 26, 2016

Public Safety Unions and the Financial Apocalypse, May 17, 2016

The Challenges Facing Conservatives Who Support Public Safety, March 22, 2016

In Search of a Legitimate Labor Movement, January 19, 2016

Pension Reform Requires Empathy, not Enmity, October 20, 2015

Public Sector Union Reform Requires Mutual Empathy, June 16, 2015

Can Unionized Police Be Held Accountable for Misconduct?, June 23, 2015

Pension Reformers are not “The Enemy” of Public Safety, April 20, 2015

Conservatives, Police Unions, and the Future of Law Enforcement, January 6, 2015

Police Unions in America, December 9, 2014

Conservative Politicians and Public Safety Unions, May 13, 2014

How Much Does Professionalism Cost?, March 11, 2014

23 replies
  1. Ed Ring
    Ed Ring says:

    daveg – The City of San Jose has a police union. Nearly all police unions, like nearly all public sector unions, call themselves “associations.” But they are unions because they engage in collective bargaining. Before collective bargaining was legal for public workers, they had associations that were associations in the context used in this post. These groups typically kept using the term “association” after they actually became unions because it sounds better to the public. The post should have made that clear.

  2. Avatar
    tallie jones says:

    police are overpaid and just marking time for a pension.

    they union bank accounts “invest” in movies about police and firemen, to make them seem like superheros. in reality, they show up after the incident and write a report about it.

    that’s almost all they do.

    all smoke and mirrors for the purpose of an illusion of power, to keep people scared. instead, lets all start thinking critically. lets all participate. qualified people should be trained and deputized as police, and contracted to fight fires.

    the entire paradigm is manipulated. police and firemen are just people, not superheros.

  3. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    Ed, seems you really blew this one. I see ZERO distinction between Police “Unions” or “Associations”.

    The both BUY the favorable votes (on pay, pensions, and benefits) of Elected Officials with campaign contributions and election support.

    ALL Public Sector DB pensions should be frozen (ZERO future growth) for the future service of all CURRENT workers. Public Sector workers are NOT ‘special” and deserving of greater pensions (MUCH greater pensions) and better benefits … on the Taxpayers’ dime.

    Haven’t the Taxpayers been ripped off long enough.

  4. Ed Ring
    Ed Ring says:

    Tough Love – the point was that “unions” can engage in collective bargaining, and “associations” can NOT engage in collective bargaining. Despite the fact that public unions call themselves “associations” doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference. Prior to unionization of the public sector, public employees had voluntary professional associations they belonged to in order to further themselves and their peers in the same manner that companies form trade associations. Then these associations turned into unions but never changed their name. I am referring to “associations” in this traditional context. I am sorry for not being more clear about this distinction.

  5. Avatar
    talltalk says:

    its too bad Tough Love found your site, ed, that person, whoever they are, are constantly infiltrating sites and putting up very distracting comments, mostly irrelevant to the article, not germaine at all. Tough Love seems like a troll, based on reading them all over the pension articles.

  6. Avatar
    talltalk says:

    Tough Love seems to pretend to not understand manipulation tactics, (like associations, oh so conveniently changing into unions), yet Tough Love is constantly trying to manipulate the comments and the conversation, trying to change the subject all the time.

  7. Avatar
    Tough Love says:


    Sorry for jumping the gun ….. I had no idea that there are (or ever “were”) Police “Associations” that had no authority to collectively bargain. Every Police organization I am aware of (all of them calling themselves “Associations”) aggressively bargains for wages and benefits.

    Their insatiable greed and arrogance in employing it is palpable.

  8. Avatar
    Tough Love says:


    Ed I and I go back a long way, and we agree (or strongly agree) on most issues. His articles provide a educational and TRUTHFUL commentary on the pension tsunami bearing down upon us …. unlike that of many bloggers and commentators (who now collect, or will be collecting a Public Sector pension) who downplay the financial mess by orders of magnitude.

    To all of his followers, I highly recommend testing scenarios with his pension calculation spreadsheet (see link below). While not as detailed as the actual calculations an actuary would use in the determination of funding requirements, it’s more than sufficient accurate for journalistic purposes.


    Ed’s spreadsheet is the blue-linked item “pension_analysis_model” in the body of the above-linked article.

  9. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    Talltalk …. is it “manipulate” or really, cut through the all the BS coming for those (primarily Public Sector retirees/workers, their families, and the Elected Officials whose re-elections live or die on continued Public Sector Union campaign contributions) who oppose even the most insignificant of pension reforms.

  10. Avatar
    talltalk says:

    its just like tough love to type without thinking. too many distracting comments. tough love never understands what is germaine to the conversation, but afterwards, oh, i didn’t know….manipulation tactics….

  11. Avatar
    talltalk says:

    if tough love wanted to be plain, they would talk about what might happen after all the boomers retire and completely deplete the ponzi schemes, leaving nothing for younger employees.

    but actuarial types won’t do this because they will have no job if the ponzi schemes are ended, the defined benefit plans. all of them are ponzi schemes.

  12. Avatar
    Tough Love says:


    Your continued focus on me (rather than the subject of the article) suggests emotional problems.

    A good therapist might help you overcome your “issues”.

  13. Avatar
    Tough Love says:


    That’s an improvement ….. at least some of your comment isn’t just about me.
    Quoting ….”what might happen after all the boomers retire and completely deplete the ponzi schemes, leaving nothing for younger employees.”

    THAT is when the proverbial Sh** hits the fan. When Plan assets hit zero, there will ONLY be a menu of 3 options (or a combination thereof) to choose from:

    (1) massive (unacceptable) reductions in service
    (2) massive (unacceptable) tax increases …. roughly $8 Billion
    (3) material reductions in pension and/or benefit payouts

    My guess (in sequence) ……. VERY material reductions in retiree healthcare subsidies that will enable kicking the can down the road for a few more years (by shifting those saving to retiree payouts) …. followed by a a hard freeze (zero future growth) on future service pension accruals for all CURRENT workers (simply to STOP digging the financial hole deeper every year) …… followed by combination of #s 1-3 above, and with a high likelihood of including (PAST service accrual) pension reductions.
    P.S., While knowledgeable of pension design and funding I don’t work in the actuarial field.

  14. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    Note: I live in NJ and my above response to talltalk (especially the $8 Billion tax increase) applies to NJ’s situation.

    However, overall, the situation will roll-out as I described above in all Cities/States as Plan assets hit zero …… acknowledging that that will take quite a bit longer in CA than in NJ.

  15. Avatar
    S Moderation Douglas says:

    I was a member of CSEA (California State Employees Association) before Gov. Brown signed the Dills Act in 1978.
    CSEA then became a “union” while keeping the same “Association” name. It was a distinction without a difference.
    One of the first contracts CSEA “negotiated” (with the Dept of Personnel Administration) included an 8% general increase to be divided between salaries and benefits. (Late seventies, double digit inflation and rising healthcare costs)

    Guess what? DPA has the authority to negotiate, but no authority to allocate funds. The legislature said, we will allot enough funds for a 6% increase. Split it up however you want.

    The Ralph C. Dills Act shall henceforth be known as The Collective Begging act of 1977.

    Mr. Ring’s objection is probably less the Dills Act, and more
    Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the1977 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which held that state interests in maintaining labor peace and eliminating “free riders” justified requiring nonmembers to pay agency fees or “fair share” fees.

  16. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    Interesting history….thanks.

    My thoughts on what the Legislature said …… “we will allot enough funds for a 6% increase. Split it up however you want. ”

    Suppose it was divided 50% & 50%, with 3% of pay going towards increased salaries and 3% of pay going towards increased pensions.

    The 3% cash pay increase is fine. The problem (for Taxpayers) is with the 3%-of-pay going towards increased pensions. Politicians ALWAYS consider pension costs to be what they pay IN CONTRIBUTIONS today ….. not a reasonably conservative estimate of the VALUE (expressed as a level annual %-of-pay) of the pension increase.

    In the calculation of what they will contribute today, the Gov’t valuation formulas/methodology employs extremely aggressive assumptions that have PROVEN to VERY materially understate the TRUE cost of pension promises.

    I doubt that the 3%-of-pay allocated towards a pension increase actually costs less than a level annual 5%-of-pay, and possibly a great deal more.

  17. Avatar
    S Moderation Douglas says:

    Split between salary and healthcare. Any change in pensions would have required specific legislation.

    The point being, the idea of collective bargaining is highly overrated. Before 1978, CSEA did meet and confer with members of the legislature, and testify at committee meetings on wages and conditions of employment. They sometimes proposed legislation. They were active in performing salary comparisons and lobbying to increase salaries. Dills didn’t really change much in that regard. The union label can’t pull money out of an empty hat, and the state budget is a notoriously empty hat.

    Figure 2 in the following link shows a brief recent history of California general pay increases. It was not unusual, even before 1991, for state workers to go without general increase for two or more consecutive years, then try to play catch-up. In 1979 Gov. Brown vetoed a general 14.5% raise (remember… double digit inflation) following a year with no raise. In a very rare event, the legislature overrode the veto (2/3 vote). And, of course, after the 2007-2008 raise in Figure 2, there were no general pay increase until 2012-2013. In fact, there were furloughs and salary reductions.

    This does not sound like the description of a Powerful Public Employee Union. Or “Association.”

    When unions are outlawed, only outlaws will have unions.

  18. Avatar
    SeeSaw says:

    One thing that should be clear: If an employee group, ie miscellaneous, in a public entity where collective bargaining is allowed, is not interested in union representation, it is not necessary to have professional union reps for collective bargaining. I worked in a municipality where in-house collective bargaining was conducted. The employee reps are elected and trained how to negotiate–thereby no union dues are necessary.

  19. Avatar
    Hal Jordan says:

    In California, “associations” can collectively bargain. They are effectively independent “unions” with a different name.

    Cops need to form their own “professional practice group”s like other professionals. Then do away with the unions and let City managers (or Police Chiefs run pay etc

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