The Burning


As commentators and policymakers have scrambled to find explanations for and responses to the unprecedented uprisings against police brutality across the United States, interest in the role of police unions in local politics has soared. Recent research into the question joins a decades-long debate in the labor movement over the distinctive character of police associations—not only as regards their power relative to the public, but also their political strength relative to the rest of the public sector.

A 2017 research paper by CATHERINE FISK and L. SONG RICHARDSON examines the evolution of US police unions, analyzes their impact on policymaking, and evaluates the efforts of cities to reform police departments over the past fifty years.

From the piece:

“Police officers formed local unions in various cities in the 1940s, and some police unions affiliated with national labor federations. However, well into the 1960s, police departments routinely fired officers who attempted to unionize, and courts upheld the power of cities to ban officers from joining unions. In the absence of legal rights to unionize or bargain collectively, government employee unions became adept at securing their members’ interests through political activity and negotiating informal agreements with public officials. Unions succeeded in gaining a lasting foothold in American police departments in the late 1960s. Not surprisingly, they negotiated for contractual protections against discipline and lobbied legislators to incorporate these protections in legislation. They opposed constitutional criminal procedure restrictions on police conduct and sought to block civilian oversight of police discipline. The legacy of the 1960s is collective bargaining agreements which make it difficult to investigate and punish officers to this day.”

Link to the report.

  • “Cities which have low levels of police protections are also less likely to experience police abuse. Local-level politics does not have a salient effect on the level of police protections, but state labour laws have a significant impact on the level of protections which officers receive.” Findings from a novel police protection index drawing on data from the US’s 100 largest cities. Link. And a 2008 paper by Samuel Walker looks at, among other things, the relationship between the civil rights movement and the growth of police unions. Link.
  • Analyzing the consequences of a 2003 Florida Supreme Court decision which increased unionization among sheriffs’ deputies, Dhammika Dharmapala, Richard McAdams, and John Rappaport find that “collective bargaining rights led to a substantial increase in violent incidents.” Link.
  • A recent paper by Michael Zoorob looks at the electoral impact of the Fraternal Order of Police. Link.
  • “Until 1919, the AFL refused to charter police unions. The 1897 AFL convention rejected an application from a police group in Cleveland, explaining that ‘it is not within the province of the trade union movement to organize policemen, no more than to organize militiamen, as both are often controlled by forces inimical to the labor movement.'” Joseph Slater’s 2004 book recounts the tensions between police and the early American labor movement. Link.


Punishment in the American South

Recent Harvard PhD in Government SOUMYAJIT MAZUMDER studies political institutions. In his job market paper, he analyzes the development of criminal punishment systems in the American south following Reconstruction.

From the introduction:

“Why did policing and incarceration emerge as an institution in the South in light of its otherwise ‘hollow state?’ By empowering African Americans without fundamentally changing the social structure of Southern society, Reconstruction generated incentives for Southern elites to invest in repressive state institutions like incarceration and the police to maintain the existing social order. I test the argument by assembling a new panel dataset from individual-level administrative records from Georgia in addition to data on black wealth, black office holding, and the police force. A difference-in-differences identification strategy demonstrates support for the argument: counties with greater exposure to Reconstruction had higher rates of incarceration especially against blacks after the end of Reconstruction.”

Link to the paper, link to Mazumder’s website.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

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  • With Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and the Economic Security Project, we were thrilled to announce this week our participation in the Newark Basic Income Task Force. Link to the roadmap report, by lead author Rachel Black, and link to coverage of the announcement.
  • For our readers in the policy, academic, and research communities, an open letter co-authored by some JFI staff, with signatories across the country, regarding the ongoing uprisings. Link.
  • “As workers formed themselves into unions and began to strike, the police became a quasi-military force whose central purpose was strikebreaking.” Alex Gourevitch on industrialization and the rapid growth in America’s police-force at the turn of the 20th century. Link.
  • New paper by Derek Denman tracks “the transfer of surplus armored vehicles to the police, and the visibility of these vehicles as they are deployed in urban and suburban spaces.” Link.
  • “People live or die based on the macroeconomic and social policy a society pursues.” From Nathan Tankus’ unparalleled ongoing series on the Fed and monetary policy last week. Link.
  • In Foreign Policy last week, on the relationship between food shocks and revolt. Link. h/t Francis
  • “Slavery and mass imprisonment are genealogically linked. One cannot understand the latter without returning to the former as historic starting point and functional analogue.” Loic Wacquant’s classic 2002 piece in the NLR. Link. A recent essay by John Clegg and Adaner Usmani updates certain elements of Wacquant’s narrative. Link.
  • A fascinating article by Stuart Schrader looks at the challenges of a reform effort in Menlo Park in the 1960s and 1970s aimed at demilitarizing police forces. Link.
  • Jamein Cunningham and Rob Gillezeau analyze the effects of over 700 uprisings that occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s. Link. (The authors are currently building a database of all racialized uprisings in the United States post-1991. Link to the project page.)
  • A 2019 paper by Federico Masera debunks the alleged tradeoff between police safety and civilian deaths: “Each year police militarization results in 64 additional killings by the police, 12,400 police officers assaults and 2,600 police officers injuries.” Link.
  • “The curfew went into effect just after Brazil’s independence as a series of police edicts and municipal regulations that criminalized the act of being in any public space after the toll of the evening church bells for most, but significantly not all, persons. These regulations held force for more than half of the nineteenth century, spanning most of the post-independence period of monarchical rule. To the extent that interdictions are an index of what people actually do, we can surmise that nineteenth-century Rio was alive at night.” By Amy Chazkel. Link. h/t Paul

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