The less you have to sell, the harder you sell it!
The less you have to say, the louder you yell it!
The dumber the act, the bigger the confession!
The less you have to show, the larger you dress it!You gotta get up!
You gotta get up and be loud!
There's a rather remarkable diatribe on p. 3 of the newsletter (pdf) from the state's largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) that deserves attention for both its detachment from reality and its use of hyperbole and demagoguery to stir up their members. CLEAT executive director Charley Wilkison offered up a column which nearly reads like satire, announcing that:
After years of being marginalized as the nutcase enemies of the police, the far left and far right are now converging with a brand-new scheme.Though Charley framed the issue in terms of left and right, it seems to be efforts by conservatives, particularly the Texas Public Policy Foundation and their allies at the Texas Association of Business, though he never names them - which really have gotten under their skin:
Across the country comes the various “Right on Crime” and “Smart on Crime” initiatives that have at their core a sweeping plan to neuter law enforcement.
After failing at successfully bringing for-profit prisons and jails to the mainstream, the same crowd now aims to tear down the structure and bring your arrest powers, the number of police, the equipment you use, your job and your pension all down in one fell swoop.
Remember a short time ago the businesses that pushed for a massive overhaul of the criminal code? Changes to juvenile code, enhancements of federal immigration law? These movements spurred a massive buildup of private, for-profit prisons and county jails. As time has gone by the political tides have turned and public distrusts for profiteering in prisons has become less appealing. Also the raw scandals behind many of the prisons have come to light.Never mind that the Texas Public Policy Foundation supported policies that helped close two private adult prisons last session, not to mention that municipalities, not the state, set the terms for police officer pensions, pay and health benefits. Why let reality get in the way of a good rant?
Now that it’s clear that the criminal justice system will never be a long term profitable venture — the bottom feeders and vultures have moved on toward finding new money. They are now eying the costs of law enforcement, calling for a wholesale reduction of criminal penalties. This thinly disguised attack on law enforcement is a political game changer in that it is a bad idea wrapped in reasonableness. The sneakiest of the sneak plays.
The powerful people who helped lure millions to this country to lower labor costs have decided to send them home. The people who bankrolled the private jail industry now want the money from public safety budgets in your city, your county diverted away. They also look at your pension, your retirement, your health care benefits and now believe your benefit package is too rich and needs to be destroyed.
To Wilkison, officers are under an imaginary political siege whose supposed scope would shock politicians who've supported the (IMO too) modest right-on-crime legislation at the capitol. According to him: "It’s clear that your profession, your rights and you as an officer are now under full scale attack," though not one actual example of such political "attacks" is cited in the article.
I realize this sort of hyperbolic innuendo and fact-free foolishness has become the norm throughout today's political culture. We can't talk about two or three cases of Ebola without every third idiot (many of them in front of a microphone) shouting that we're all going to die unless this or that xenophobic policy is implemented. We can't talk about foreign policy without somebody claiming the president is a traitor or insisting that anyone who opposes new wars is "soft" on terrorism. Oppose affirmative action? You're a racist. Support making people buy private health insurance the way they must for their automobile? You're a "socialist" who hates capitalism. Support the Second Amendment? You don't care about murder victims. Want the broken immigration system fixed? You're for "open borders" and eventually someone will call you a race traitor.
That's the political environment we live in today and, regrettably, Texas police unions apparently feel the need to replicate that sort of disreputable demagoguery to be heard over the bipartisan voices calling to scale back mass incarceration in the state. In reality, Right on Crime reformers so far have avoided proposals that would impinge on police unions' labor issues. But if the unions are going to come after their agenda as ferociously as this commentary implies, there's little incentive to keep avoiding them going forward.
Ironically, Texas' leading prison guard union supports a big swath of the proposed Right on Crime measures because Texas prisons are short-staffed and turnover at many units is so high it puts their members in danger. So they're fine with reducing the prison population and closing a few more prisons because it would improve safety and working conditions for the officers who remain, possibly even freeing up money to enhance their pay and benefits.
But police unions aren't known for their sympathy toward other workers in the criminal justice system. (Indeed, reading through the newsletter one discovers CLEAT is more angry at a competing union - the Texas Municipal Police Association - than even the Right on Crime backers.) They want theirs and don't really care how it impacts other unions, state or local budgets, or taxpayers who foot the bill for their salaries. I don't find that to be the mindset of average cops on the beat, it should be emphasized. But more often than not it's how their representatives in the unions behave.
Wilkison promised that CLEAT has "developed a brand-new legislative strategy" to be announced next month at their annual conference. The part of me that appreciates political theater (particularly comedic performances like Charley's column) would enjoy it if CLEAT and Co. decided to employ this sort of over-the-top rhetoric at the Lege.
Since the GOP took over the Texas Legislature in 2003, it for the most part has forsaken the sort of union bashing that has occurred in Wisconsin and elsewhere. But given that Republicans control the body by a 2-1 margin, if they decide police unions are the enemy - or if the unions insist on positioning themselves as such - Charley and his pals may discover what an actual anti-union agenda looks like. This seems like a "be careful what you ask for" moment.