Conservative hypocrisy on police unions

In the charged atmosphere surrounding the debate on race and policing in American cities, nuance and fresh perspective have often been in short supply. That made Ross Douthat‘s column in Sunday’s New York Times a welcome tonic.

The reliably conservative voice on the Times op-ed page weighs in with a thoughtful critique of those on the right who seem to rush reflexively to the defense of police. It’s an odd practice, argues Douthat, since those same voices tend to be the harshest critics of nearly every other group of unionized public sector employees.

Conservatives, he writes, have said the monopoly such unions have on the provision of crucial public services makes imperative the ability to fire poor-performing workers.

Douthat says there are plenty of parallels with the situation of unionized teachers. Both police and teachers fill incredibly difficult and important public roles, and most of them are fully deserving of our gratitude and admiration. But not all of them. As in any field, some are not up to the challenging demands of the job. And it’s that subgroup that is at issue.

Police and teachers both “belong to professions filled with heroic and dedicated public servants, and both enjoy deep reservoirs of public sympathy as a result,” writes Douthat. “But in both professions, unions have consistently exploited that sympathy to protect failed policies and incompetent personnel.”

The stakes, he says, are far higher in law enforcement, where a “bad cop” can leave someone dead or permanently damaged — or help set a city ablaze.

Cities are facing pressure to address police wrongdoing. In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh announced last month that he wants to beef up a review board set up to examine charges of police misconduct that has been largely dormant. The panel was established by former mayor Tom Menino in 2007. Although police unions battled for years against its formation, the board wields very little clout, with no authority to carry out its own investigations, interview witnesses, or issue subpoenas. The Globe reported today that the city is nearing an agreement with police unions on a separate review process to handle lower-level complaints — cases involving allegations of rude conduct or use of abusive language by officers.

There continues to be a lot of focus on diversity in law enforcement, with the Herald reporting today that the number of minority officers in Boston has ticked down slightly since Walsh took office. No one would dispute that it is good to have a police force that reflects the makeup of the community it serves, but diversity alone is no guarantor of sounder or more sensitive policing practices. In Baltimore, in the case of the death of Freddie Gray, the city’s Dorchester-born prosecutor is bringing charges against six police officers, three white and three black.

The worst thing one can do is to conflate the heroism shown by many police officers with the serious issue of police abuse of blacks that has been at the center of one controversial case after another in recent months. And that is exactly what Joe Fitzgerald does in today’s Herald. He spoke yesterday with John Moynihan, the Boston gang unit officer who has made a remarkable recovery after being shot in the face point-blank in late March.

Fitzgerald writes poignantly about Moynihan’s reaction to the news that a New York City police officer had been critically wounded there on Saturday in an encounter not unlike the one he faced. But Fitzgerald then goes on to decry all the handwringing about blacks recently killed in encounters with police, saying of these victims, “We’re not talking about Medgar Evers and Emmett Till here.”

Eric Garner, he says of the unarmed man a group of New York City police were trying to handcuff for selling loose cigarettes on the streets of Staten Island, would be alive today if he had “properly responded to arresting officers.” He also would be alive if police hadn’t put him in a chokehold in violation of department policy against its use.

Fitzgerald’s twisted logic is exactly what has given rise to an atmosphere in which rules and reason don’t apply when policing in poor neighborhoods or dealing with black residents. The longstanding tensions that have suddenly burst into public view need a lot less of that thinking and more of Douthat’s thoughtful take. We ought to be able to balance deep respect for police with demands for stricter accountability for their actions and reforms that further that goal.




Sunday’s Globe reported on the often overlapping worlds of Sen. Brian Joyce‘s law practice and his duties on Beacon Hill. Joyce insisted he’s done nothing wrong — yet he would not speak with reporter Andrea Estes for the story and had his attorney instead provide a 10-page written response to the paper’s questions.

State Auditor Suzanne Bump says sexism is still rampant in politics. (Keller@Large)

The MetroWest Daily News ponders secrecy and speed in House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s chamber.


Mayor Marty Walsh says it’s no problem that political consultant Michael Goldman, who was a paid adviser to his campaign and now serves as an unpaid adviser, has inked a deal to represent the MBTA’s Carmen’s Union. (Boston Herald)

A new public art installation goes up above the Greenway in Boston. (WBUR)


CommonWealth dissects the MBTA’s $6 million land deal with Wynn Resorts.

It could be do-or-die time for a Southeastern Mass. casino, as two would-be developers face a deadline of 5 pm today to show that they have detailed financing plans and a Brockton proposal faces a citywide referendum vote next week. (Boston Globe)


Police kill two gunmen at Muhammad cartoon event in Texas. (Time)

A computer analysis of about 25,000 rulings from the Supreme Court from 1791 to 2008 finds the justices’ opinions are getting longer, easier to read… and grumpier. (New York Times)


Two self-proclaimed political outsiders — retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina — are expected today to join the growing roster of contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. (New York Times)

Beverly Mayor Mike Cahill says he’s running for reelection. (Salem News)


Berkshire towns need to decide what what they are going to spend on broadband. (Berkshire Eagle)


Bridgewater State University officials, who have been accused of trying to cover-up sexual assaults on the campus sent the Brockton Enterprise a bill for more than $60,000 for a public records request for six weeks of emails involving school officials and the director of its day care program, where a student intern allegedly raped two children.

Boston plans a series of public forums to solicit ideas for reforming the city’s high schools. (Boston Globe)

A new state policy requires more than 8,000 high school referees to undergo criminal background checks beginning with the fall sports season. (Patriot Ledger)

Five Tufts University students began a hunger strike yesterday to protest the planned layoff of janitors on campus. (Boston Globe)


Medicaid expansion by the federal government is saving states money. (Governing)

The Globe looks at Cambridge-based Iora Healths idea for remaking the way primary care is paid for and delivered. CommonWealth took an in-depth look at Iora last year.

A controversial flame retardant chemical once used in children’s sleepwear and now used in many upholstery items contains a mutagen, a gene-altering agent, that can cause health problems from cancer to brain damage. (New York Times)


A regional bus service operated by former Dartmouth selectman John George, who was convicted last month on federal corruption charges, denied about 800 requests for trips by physically and mentally disabled passengers, according to a state report. (Standard-Times)

Former representative James Smith says he now regrets fighting and defeating a route plan for I-95 that would have come through Lynn. (Item)


Logan Airport will develop plans to cut emissions and plan for climate-change-related sea level increases. (Boston Globe)

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch says a revised federal flood zone plan that will go into effect in August eliminates the requirement for flood insurance premiums for more than 700 homeowners. (Patriot Ledger)

Fishermen may have to start paying for the federal monitors who collect data on their catches which could further deplete their earnings. (Cape Cod Times)


Randolph officials have suspended the liquor license of a VFW post for 10 days for over-serving a woman who was intoxicated and later caused a fatal crash after she left the bar. (The Enterprise)

Police discuss their opinions on the murder charges against the Baltimore  officers in Freddie Gray‘s death. (Christian Science Monitor)


The National Review says there appears to be a connection between unions who donate to the Rev. Al Sharpton‘s nonprofit foundation and the access to airtime they receive on Sharpton’s show on MSNBC.

A new study finds that global press freedom is at its lowest point in more than a decade. (U.S. News & World Report)

The Eagle-Tribune plugs The Andovers, a magazine focused on life north of Boston that is owned by the same parent company.