This is only one of the mechanisms by which police unions and the laws they lobby for can enable the use of excessive force and other misconduct.
Authors of the working paper on Florida sheriffs cited above say unionization “may increase solidarity among officers and thereby strengthen a code of silence that impedes the detection of misconduct.” In many states police unions can even demand that cities first engage in negotiation before adopting policy changes such as new restrictions on the use of force — effectively tying the hands of reformist mayors and councils.
A valuable step that recently won support from Harvard labor law scholar Benjamin Sachs would be to restrict the scope of collective bargaining to economic outcomes, such as wages and benefits, thus excluding both discipline for misconduct on the one hand and policy changes on the other. That’s not a new idea — I remember it coming up as long ago as the 1970s — but it is an excellent and timely one.
A more thoroughgoing libertarian approach — entirely repealing municipalities’s obligation to recognize or bargain with police unions, for example — might be politically out of reach in many states, for now at least.
In the meantime, there is scope for plenty of constructive cross‐ideological cooperation aimed at reining in the organizations that have helped bring us to this point.