A Clear Conflict of Interest: Why Police Unions Should be Banned from Donating to Prosecutors

November 4, 2022

A drawing depicting a donation from police unions to prosecutors

We believe in strong and active unions. We believe in the power and importance of collective bargaining.

But police unions have consistently used their political influence and financial might to block reforms that will hold them accountable. It’s particularly problematic that they’re pouring money into races for local prosecutors— the very people in the position of determining whether charges should be brought against officers when they are arrested for misconduct. 

We think it’s time to ban police unions from donating to prosecutor campaigns. Here’s why. 

Police Unions Are Not Like Other Unions

We support unions. Without unions, we wouldn’t have things that many of us probably take for granted, like eight-hour workdays, 40-hour weeks, weekends, minimum wage, paid vacation, workplace safety standards, and so much more. 

But police unions are not like other unions. (In fact, throughout history, police have often engaged in union-busting, protecting businesses and private property instead of First Amendment rights.) Police unions are concerned with much more than advocating for higher wages and overtime pay—they work to protect the interests of their own members, as opposed to advancing the cause of labor more broadly. 

Police unions shield police officers from facing any consequences for their actions and squash any and all efforts at transforming police culture and reimagining public safety. They pour money into lawsuits challenging proposed police reforms and mount extremist, fear-mongering campaigns meant to frighten the public into turning against change. But police unions have been known to take their retaliatory tactics even farther than that: They engage in work slowdowns too, even threatening to stop responding quickly to 911 calls. We’ve seen all that happen all across the country, in city after city, including our own home town, Burlington, Vermont.

A Conflict of Interest

A group of California prosecutors is trying to call attention to another way that police unions have been working to block change and evade accountability for misconduct: Making political donations to local prosecutor races. 

District attorney Diana Becton of Contra Costa County (in Northern California) gets to the heart of the problem with those donations:

“I'm receiving money from their unions. And at the same time, I am going to be investigating possible instances of misconduct. Would you say, ‘Hmm, I wonder if she's going to be fair to both sides?’ So despite our best intentions, when we handle officer-involved cases, the public perceives conflicts of interest.”

She brings up a good point: Can a prosecutor whose campaign was funded by a police union make an unbiased decision in a case involving a police officer? All we can do is point you to the facts: 

  • There are about 1000 fatal police shootings every year (Black people are more than three times more likely to be killed by police than white people). 

  • Officers are prosecuted less than 2% of the time for murder.

And It Doesn’t Stop at Prosecutors…

Over the past ten years, police unions have spent more than $48 million on state lobbying and directed almost $71 million to state-level candidates and committees—in addition to the millions they’ve spent on federal lobbying and campaigns.

Police unions have leveraged that political influence to increase police budgets (even though increasing police spending does nothing to lower crime)—while fighting to block policies that would enact the changes that our communities want and need.

Their political influence has also led to police-union contracts that actually lock in a lack of accountability—contracts that are supported by pandering state legislators afraid of being labeled “soft on crime” by the police unions themselves. Many contracts stipulate protections for officers accused of misconduct, like erasing previous complaints, allowing officers to view evidence brought against them, and limiting the ability of people to file complaints in the first place. Police union contracts even limit the ability of city leaders to pass laws that would change policing. Enough is enough.

Reduce the Power of Police Unions

What can we do to reduce the power of police unions, ensure accountability for officers, and promote true safety in our communities? The #NixThe6 campaign has been working hard to figure that out. Take a look at their 6 key solutions, then give them your support

1. No more police union contracts blocking accountability

2. No more rehiring officers fired for misconduct

3. No more so-called police bill of rights laws

4. No more police union influence over police budgets

5. No more police unions buying political power

6. No more negotiations without community representation 

For us, banning political donations from police unions to prosecutor races is absolutely critical. If that money dries up, then maybe elected leaders will stop pandering to police unions and start making sure police officers are held accountable for their actions.

Sign the petition!

Tell California’s assembly to pass SB 710 and fight for police and prosecutor accountability