We cannot allow police unions to define public safety

By Cat Brooks

By Cat Brooks

Recently, the San Francisco and San José Police Officers Associations and the Los Angeles Police Protection League released a video on their social media platforms in unison.

“Increase funding for de-escalation and crisis training”, the video states. “Many non-emergency calls do not require a police response.”

Sounds good, right? And more than likely also sounds familiar. At first glance, one might think the video was funded by community advocates. The steps to better policing outlined in the thirty-second video include movement buzzwords such as “de-escalation,” “crisis intervention training,” and “community policing.” The slogan “invest in better policing” sounds eerily similar to Oakland-based group Defund OPD’s — a project of the Anti Police-Terror Coalition — “invest in community” messaging.

The same police unions who defended their rank and file members responsible for the killings of Mario Woods, Jessica Williams, Anthony Nuñez, Ezell Ford, Kenney Watkins, and Grechario Mack now claim they have a quick fix for the protests that have swept that nation after George Floyd’s murder — “Invest in Better Policing”.

The video links back to a vague petition on the Invest in Better Policing website asking viewers to tell elected officials to “invest in our safety” sponsored by the San Francisco, San José, and Los Angeles police unions. The website offers little more information about what the coalition’s goals are, other than to spend more money on the police.

The Invest in Better Policing campaign isn’t an earnest attempt at police reform. It’s an attempt by police unions — some of the most insidious forces in law enforcement — to co-opt the community’s campaign language for their own agenda.

A brief look at the impact of police unions on our communities clearly demonstrate that they are the last entity that should be leading the path to reform:

Across the country, police unions wield their power to negotiate clauses in their contracts that keep officers accused of wrongdoing from facing consequences.

Professor Gillezeau at the University of Victoria has new research that shows that police unions themselves lead to a “humongous increase” in police killings in cities that have them in contrast with those who do not.

Police unions pour millions of dollars annually into campaigns to elect conservative, law-and-order candidates. Nationally, the International Union of Police Associations, a national police union that represents over 100,000 cops, has endorsed Trump for re-election in 2020.

Locally, San Francisco writer Joe Eskenazi has labeled the local POA as “San Francisco’s most reactionary voice.” In the past few months alone, the SFPOA retweeted Tucker Carlson and mocked a Sheriff’s Department policy banning “thin blue line” masks from being worn in the line of duty on Facebook.

In San José, the POA released a promotional video with the text “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” and called on Santa Clara County to end their sanctuary policy and cooperate with ICE.

In Los Angeles, LAPPL Board Member Jamie McBride called Black Lives Matter an “anti-police hate group” and accused Mayor Garcetti of being “mentally unstable” for criticizing police officers. Jamie McBride is well regarded within his union; Los Angeles Times source affectionately referred to McBride as the union’s “pit bull.”

We’ve tried compromising with law enforcement. We’ve tried reforms. The police continue to kill us. It’s time to radically reimagine public safety. It’s time to move away from a militarized police force and punitive carceral state that do little-to-nothing to keep our communities safe. And it’s time for the people to be at the forefront of creating new solutions, ones that center community compassion and care for community crisis.

Our people-driven solution involves redirect dollars from policing to refund our communities. We can repurpose the millions of dollars wasted on non-emergency police responses to pay our teachers more, build truly affordable housing, and invest in continuing education and jobs programs. We must also develop an alternative response to mental health crises, Interpersonal Violence, and substance abuse issues — much like the Anti-Police Terror Project’s Mental Health First program in Sacramento and Oakland.

The Police Officer Association video lets me know that we are winning. Why else spend time trying to derail our movement by co-opting our language? Police unions see that our message is resonating with hundreds of thousands of Californians from the streets to City Halls and the state Capitol. They know that the day has come to redefine public safety and community care. Their days are numbered.

Our job is to stay focused. Together we can rebuild a public safety system that allows all of us to feel truly safe.

Cat Brooks is the Executive Director of the Justice Teams Network and the co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project.

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