Labor must hold politicians accountable

By Catherine Conlan
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, communities are looking for ways to address cop violence. Some of the ideas sound radical, even unworkable; “defund the police” can mean anything from a reallocation of resources to complete abolition, while options are more along the lines of reform.
Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican, served as a police officer for some time before his foray into politics. He tweeted out some opinions about changes to consider, after first saying that “defunding the police makes absolutely no sense.” Let’s take a look at his suggestions.
“Let’s work together on policies that improve hiring standards,” he says. Research indicates that police departments across the country are having trouble attracting and retaining recruits, but then, most employers across all industries have been facing the same challenges (at least, before Trump botched the pandemic response so poorly it crashed the economy). As boomers retire, all employers have had to get creative to bring people in the door.
For police departments, this has meant “lowering” standards over the past few years, and while most departments are cagey about what that might mean (no employer wants to brag about how they’re not hiring the best they can), it does include changes that reflect societal norms, such as loosening regulations on visible tattoos, facial hair, or even past drug use.
Next, Stauber suggests “bolstering training.” That sounds like a good start, but as any manager knows, there is a wide range of quality when it comes to training. One of the most popular police training systems in the country, a warrior-style training that establishes an us-vs.-them mentality between the public and police, was actually banned last year in Minneapolis, but Police Union President Lt. Bob Kroll offered it anyway.
To be fair, it’s hard to go into details in a tweet. But training isn’t useful unless there’s a goal, something you’re training for. For the police, what would that be? That’s the place to start.
Stauber also calls for an increased number of body cameras. And that seems like a straightforward change that would get results. After all, when people know they’re being observed, that will improve their behavior, right?
Actually, no. A randomized control trial that evaluated the effects of body cameras used by the police in Washington, D.C., published last year, found that body cameras didn’t “meaningfully affect police behavior on a range of outcomes, including complaints and the use of force.”
Stauber then calls for reviewing arbitration practices. Often seen as a back-door attack on unions, arbitration reform is getting renewed attention in recent months. But a Pioneer Press analysis of five years of Minnesota’s mediation records found that fired police officers got their jobs back through arbitration less than half the time, similar to all other public- and
private-sector union employees who went through arbitration. Any overhaul of arbitration must be carefully approached.
Finally, Stauber recommends community policing. For some, it means more beat cops interacting with the community and serving as a visible deterrent. For others, it means more beat cops harassing those in the community or making unilateral decisions about who belongs in a community.
What needs to happen to improve the way we respond to violence in our communities won’t be solved with a tweet (or a column). But those of us in the Labor community in the Eighth have an opportunity and responsibility to push on these issues to make sure the solutions work for everyone.

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