Daily Reformer: A deal on police reform that both sides can live with

The encampment on the east side of Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis has around 100 tents with an equal number in an encampment on the other side of the park. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

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Happy Juneteenth, which many Black Americans observe as the day the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas and informed the enslaved people that they were free. Let’s hope it becomes a national holiday as we finally grapple with the Civil War and stop celebrating its treasonous losers.  

President Donald Trump, who rescheduled his first post-COVID-19 campaign rally in Tulsa from Juneteenth after a wave of protest, did his best to soil the moment

“I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous,” Trump said in reference to the rally date. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.” 

By “nobody had ever heard of it,” of course he meant he had never heard of it. 

The Minnesota House passed a significant package of policing reforms, but without Senate GOP support, it’s not going anywhere. 

But let me focus on one area where there might be agreement, but it’s going to require both sides to give.

Mayor Jacob Frey, Chief Medaria Arradondo, a bunch of mayors and police chiefs put out a statement with the following proposed change to law to make it easier to fire bad cops: 

Arbitrators do not have authority to reverse or reduce the discipline imposed by the chief law enforcement officer when the employer demonstrates that the peace officer provided an untruthful formal statement, engaged in unreasonable use of force, failed to report force used, failed to intervene when witnessing another peace officer use unreasonable force or engaged in other egregious conduct.

This guts the arbitration process. 

As Arradondo and co. point out in the news release, roughly 50% of police terminations in Minnesota are overturned by arbitrators when appealed.

Read this piece in the Washington Post by a police chief who worked in three different states and talks about the total grind to try to fire the bad actors. 

This Steven Greenhouse piece in the New Yorker points to the mounting evidence that the political muscle of police unions and their powerful arbitration rights have led to an increase in police misconduct as well as questionable use of force incidents in recent decades.  

Even if you claim the problem here is a few bad apples — a claim I find deeply unpersuasive — then you have to help make it easier to get rid of said apples. 

I should think Republicans would embrace any successful attempt to erode the arbitration protections of a public sector union. After all, so much in policy and politics is about momentum. Take this win Republicans. Maybe you’ll beat AFSCME or the teachers union next with the same rationale — that we can’t keep protecting bad teachers and other public sector workers. 

Moreover, your allegiance to police is no longer paying political dividends. Protecting bad cops is not where you want to be in the fall. 

On the other side, public sector unions are understandably hesitant to give up anything, given the decadeslong assault on them from conservative operatives and the big money that backs them. 

The unions also know that maxim above, about momentum. 

As former labor leader and now friend of the Reformer Javier Morillo told me this morning,  “They fear slippery slopes so much they go quiet or openly oppose change.”

To which I would say, slippery slope arguments are usually weak, and especially so this time. The unions would win a ton of goodwill with Democratic allies — especially Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Republicans, meanwhile, are going to fight you either way. Giving on this one issue with one union will have no broader impact, but it will win you support of other, more important constituencies. 

I refer you to Morillo’s blockbuster piece from a couple weeks ago that laid out the labor case for bringing the police unions to heel.  

Labor must flex its muscle in St. Paul, in city halls and nationally to ensure this change happens. Some have reasonable concerns that any move against police unions will be used to attack all public sector unions. In fact, however, non-police public sector unions have increasingly embraced the idea of bringing community to the bargaining table. We needn’t think of this as a threat to trade unionism; it is an opportunity for renewal. 

(Javier’s piece was referenced in that New Yorker article above, so that’s two Reformer writers in the New Yorker in the past couple weeks, not that I’m bragging or nothin’.)

In the package of reforms that passed the House, a measure from Rep. Kaohly Her, DFL-St. Paul, would change the police arbitration process so that the governor would appoint a six-person arbitration board for written discipline, discharge or termination of an officer. 

It doesn’t go far enough, but at least it creates a bit of public accountability, since we elect the governors who would appoint the arbitrators. 

I should hope lawmakers in both parties would step up in this moment and show that our political system isn’t totally broken. 

Moving on….

Sen. Amy Klobuchar is out of the veepstakes. Here’s my piece on our senior senator’s momentous year. She says she took herself out of the running in a call to Biden. I, too, have informed Biden I should no longer be considered. 

Max Nesterak broke news that the Minneapolis Park Board declared the parks a refuge for people experiencing homelessness. This is not a long term solution but a way to sanction the quickly growing encampments in Powderhorn Park that Max has been reporting on.  

Back of the envelope math: 20,000 Minnesotans homeless. $200,000 per unit of affordable housing. $4 billion. That’s not much money, in the grand scheme of things. Do that in all 50 states and it’s $200 billion. Congress spends that much on a whim. Think of all the construction jobs. And the effect on the broader housing market. Privatize the whole thing if you want, but goodness gracious let’s do it. (Editor Max points out some problems with my math, like building costs being wildly higher in California, where about half of the country’s homeless population lives, but you get my point.) 

Senate GOP says they’re going to adjourn today. There’s a long list of stuff, from a big public works package to COVID-19 health and economic measures, that’s undone. 

Oh well. There’s always next year. 

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Have a great day all.