Article written with contributions from Runal Das, Taylor Woods, Benjamin Merrick and Alison Boland-Reeves
The District of Columbia is once again negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police, the DC Police Union that represents MPD’s sworn police officers, —privates, sergeants, detectives and detective sergeants. Metro DC DSA has joined with the Defund MPD Coalition to launch a campaign calling on Mayor Bowser and DC Council to eliminate unfair provisions in the police union contract that shield police officers from accountability. We also call on negotiators to find economic savings that would enable the DC Council to redistribute public funds to hard-working public servants and important non-carceral public safety programs. You can send a letter via Action Network and learn more about police unions’ role as part of the lobbying arm of the carceral state from this Jacobin article.
What's at stake? The MPD budget for fiscal year 2021 is $545.7 million, a very small decrease of 1.7% below Mayor Bower’s proposed budget, despite the transformational demands of a mass social movement for reduced spending on policing as a step towards abolition. When the DC Council passed an emergency police reform bill this summer in response to local protests, the DC Police Union sued over a provision that made it easier to fire officers for misconduct; the lawsuit failed at the district court level but could be appealed. The Police Union is a critical barrier to defunding the Metropolitan Police Department and investing in the community. The current union contract prevents police officers accused of misconduct from being held accountable for their actions, and it gives them more protection than regular citizens accused of crimes. For example, Article 13, Section 9(2) lets officers review their previous statements on an issue before being interviewed again.
How are police unions different from other unions? Teachers, nurses, librarians, sanitation workers, administrative workers, transit workers and other civil servants have formed public-sector unions to promote dignity on the job, safe and fair working conditions and salaries commensurate with the essential public services they perform. The police are different from other public workers because they are empowered to use violence against DC residents. More broadly, the role that police play under capitalism is not one of public safety but instead one of using violence to uphold the prevailing social order. Their unions enable them to do this with impunity. In other words, police unions, unlike other public-sector unions, are firmly and violently on the side of the ruling class. Police unions cannot be used as an excuse by public officials (or union leaders) to avoid addressing fundamental injustices in the criminal legal system. We must create a public expectation that DC Council members will use their power to hold the police accountable and protect DC residents’ civil rights. The current DC Police Union contract prevents that.
Divest from the police by making the following amendments to the DC Police Union Collective Bargaining Agreement:
Reinvest in Public Employees:
How does the negotiation and ratification process work? The contract expired on September 30, 2020 but can be extended with both parties’ approval on an ongoing basis. Once a tentative agreement is reached with the union, the contract will first go through the DC Council’s Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, chaired by Elissa Silverman. During the last contract ratification process, Councilmember Silverman held public hearings on the contract. Once the contract is voted out of committee, it goes to a vote in front of the committee-of-the-whole, comprising the entire council, and then to the Mayor’s desk for signature.
What has happened in the past? Contract renewals between the city and the DC Police Union have historically been contentious. The last contract renewal in 2018 took over a year to negotiate and was the first contract since 2001 that was agreed upon mutually and did not require arbitration. Members even tried to hold a recall election for their new president in the middle of their contract campaign, but he ultimately stayed in his position for a short while. The contract included a 3% raise in 2017, a 2% raise in 2018 and a 3.5% raise in 2019.
New DC Police Union Leadership Detective Gregg Pemberton became the Chairman of the DC Police Union in early 2020, after previously serving as Treasurer. Pemberton gained notoriety as the lead detective on the J20 Inauguration Day protestors’ prosecution when the defense raised issues concerning his previous anti-activist statements. With the budget crunch, the impending nomination of a new Police Chief, and “reform” efforts underway, Pemberton will be under intense pressure and scrutiny. Under his leadership, the Police Union has been publicizing a survey through its website and news outlets showing that recent reforms have caused 71% of officers to consider quitting their jobs.
About the DC Police Union The Fraternal Order of Police DC Lodge was founded in 1966 and has been representing officers in MPD since 1981 when it chased off a rival union. The DC Police Union has consistently advocated “law and order politics,” fought to protect officers who commit violence and guarded officers’ access to perks such as overtime and free Metro rides. The DC Police Union endorsed Trump in 2016 and 2020 and held a $275 per person Christmas Party at Trump's DC hotel in 2019; a decade earlier, they disinvited Mayor Adrian Fenty from a police event after he paid for the funeral of a 14-year-old killed by police. The Police Union opposed a law that would discipline officers who failed to tape interrogations. Most recently, the union fought against releasing body camera footage. The Police Union has been successful in its fight for impunity: No DC police officer has ever been criminally charged because of an on-duty shooting.
How to get involved in the campaign
Questions? Write to defundmpd[@]mdcdsa.org