Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Police Unions Cause An Overwhelming Majority Of Trouble


plsonline |  By the mid-1960s police officers had responded with an aggressive and widespread police unionization campaign. Aided by court rulings more favorable to the organizing of public employees; fueled by resentment of the authoritarian organization of departments; and united in a common resistance to increasing charges of police brutality, corruption and other forms of misconduct, nearly every large-city police department had been unionized by the early 1970s. Police officers struck in New York City in 1971; in Baltimore in 1974 and in San Francisco in 1975. "Job actions" such as "blue flue" and work slowdowns (i.e. not writing tickets, making few arrests) were common in other cities.

Initially, the response to this union activity was to reduce centralization in the police bureaucracy and to include officers in discussions of rules, procedures and departmental practices. What had been the exclusive fiefdom of the police executive was now subject to negotiation with a union. But reduced municipal tax bases, caused primarily by the exodus of white, affluent executives and professionals to the suburbs in the 1970s; a prolonged economic recession in the 1970s and early 1980s; and fiscal mismanagement in many cities, led to layoffs of police and other municipal workers, and rollbacks in benefits. In fact, unions became an attractive scapegoat for municipal problems. Politicians, administrators and the media all blamed demands by public workers for the financial straits in which the cities had been floundering. Despite the fact that the fiscal crisis had been caused by much larger social and economic trends, blaming police and other workers allowed police administrators and politicians to once again reorganize the police. This reorganization has been dubbed the "Taylorization of the police" by historian Sydney Harring (1981).

Under the "Taylorization" reforms, police departments reduced the size of their forces; went from two-person to one-person patrol cars; and increased the division of labor within police departments. Police work was broken down into ever more specific, highly specialized tasks; patrol became more reactive; technology was used to restore the control of police administrators (i.e., 911 emergency lines; computerization); and some traditional police tasks were turned over to civilian employees. All of this served to further isolate the police from the citizenry; to further reduce the effectiveness of police practices; and to continually justify ever more "Taylorization" as a response to increasing inefficiency.

Concurrent with reform efforts aimed at professionalization, was an increased reliance on technology and scientific aspects of police investigation. The idea of police as scientific crime fighters had originated with August Vollmer as early as 1916, with the introduction of the crime laboratory. By 1921 Vollmer was advocating the widespread use of lie detectors and the establishment of a database for collecting national crime data (Crank and Langworthy 1992). Over the years science became synonymous with professionalism for many police executives. The use of fingerprints, serology, toxicology chemistry and scientific means for collecting evidence were emphasized as part of a professional police force. In terms of technological advancements, new ways of maintaining police record systems and enhancing police communications, such as the police radio, became priorities.

The emphasis was on efficiency and crime-fighting, with the social work aspects of policing deemphasized and discouraged. The hope was also that the professional, scientific crime-fighters would be less susceptible to corruption. It is therefore a further irony of policing that in Philadelphia new communications technologies were put to use in establishing what is arguably the first "call girl" system in the United States, calling out for prostitutes using police communications systems.