Police unions legally defend officers, even the most violent among them, from investigation, discipline and dismissal. A study of 656 police union contracts found that police officers commonly receive as many as four layers of appellate review in disciplinary cases, and some contracts provided six or seven layers of review.
For example, when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead in Cleveland, the local union appealed the removal of the officer responsible. Dallas’ police union paid the legal fees of Amber Guyger, the off-duty cop who murdered 26-year-old Botham Jean in his own apartment. In Chicago, the FOP paid for the defense of Jon Burge, the Chicago police commander implicated in torture. And most recently, the Miami FOP pledged $10,000 to the legal defense of the cop charged with murdering Rayshard Brooks.
After an officer has gone through their appeals process, most departments allow officers accused of misconduct to appeal to a third-party arbitrator. In a study of 656 police union contracts, most police contracts gave the offending officers some control over the selection of the arbitrator deciding their case — almost assuring that they would be reinstated.
On the off chance a police officer is fired for violence or misconduct, police unions aggressively work behind closed doors to appeal the discipline decision to an arbitrator — a common practice that fights accountability on the most basic of levels.
For example, the Wall Street Journal found that half of Minnesota police officers fired for misconduct or charged with criminal behavior are reinstated, including seven out of nine officers in cases involving use of force. After high profile cases are out of the spotlight, some violent police officers return to policing, often with union support.
Police unions have a history of raising funds for officers accused of violence, from the Miami FOP pledging to defend Rayshard Brooks’ killer, to their support for fundraising efforts for the Ferguson, Missouri police officer, Darren Wilson, who murdered Michael Brown.
The FOP has worked to recruit officers disciplined or fired in other jurisdictions, for example posting a social media ad in Florida recruiting officers who were recently disciplined elsewhere. Frequently, this means a police officer fired in one locality is hired somewhere else — as many as 3% of police officers in Florida, according to the Washington Post. Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, had been fired from another police force before he was hired in Cleveland, and after Rice’s killing, was hired by a small Ohio village police department.
In 2018, German Bosque, an Opa-locka police sergeant who’s been arrested three times and has 40 internal affairs complaints (including 16 for battery or excessive force) held onto his job each of the six times he’s been fired. The Miami-Dade PBA attorneys who represented Bosque in arbitration argued Bosque was “just misunderstood,” a “really a nice guy,” and “an aggressive police officer.” Not only did Bosque get his job back, but Opa-locka Police Chief James Dobson didn’t settle until they determined the backpay Bosque would receive from the time he was terminated from the force.