Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The police union playbook for responding to racially charged police shootings

Police unions have been under fire lately for protecting bad cops, opposing reforms, and engaging in bullying behavior in response to public criticisms of unwarranted police shootings. So, in the wake of this latest round of attention, let's take a look at the police-union playbook when it comes to responding to controversial police use of force incidents. 

In the most recent Reasonably Suspicious podcast, we discussed a book just out this year coauthored by Ron DeLord, the former head of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas and one of the most important voices in the country on police labor matters. The book was called "Law Enforcement, Police Unions, and the Future: Educating Police Management and Unions About the Challenges Ahead." 

In the podcast, we talked about the authors' analysis of police pension politics. But today we turn to Chapter 11, titled, "What Every Union Leader Needs To Know About Dealing With The Media In A High Profile Incident."

The chapter opens with a quote from Malcolm X. "The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses."

The authors suggested eight "rules" for dealing with the media to help unions with this task of making "the guilty innocent." They were laid out as subheads to the chapter:

Rule One: Do Not Defend the Indefensible
Argues that, in racially charged debates, union leaders may need to sacrifice individual members to the media maelstrom because, "If the unions stands directly in the blast and tries to stop it, the blast will overwhelm and discredit the union and the officers it represents." They gave an example in which "the officers were terminated and the union received favorable press."

Rule Two: Redirect the Message
Specifically, "The union should look to see if management or elected officials are overreacting and have jumped to conclusions about the 'guilt' of the officer or officers." Then single that person out and attack them. "The union's attack on the offending officials will start a war of words between the parties and distract the media."

Rule Three: Wrap Yourself in the Flag
"If the high profile incident appears to be really bad and there is no logical explanation in the initial aftermath that the union can give to the media and the public for the officer's actions, the union should wrap itself in the flag." Further, "The union may consider going on the offense at this point." For example, "If the incident has racial overtones, make the message that the debate is about criminals, not race."

Rule Four: Remind the Public Who the Real Bad Guys Are in the Case, and Pray There Are Some
Most high profile incidents begin "when someone starts acting badly or breaking the law, so they suggest that unions investigate the victim ("get the public record on this person") and publicly blame them. They add, "If the incident involves a carload of preachers, revisit Rule Number Three (Wrap Yourself In The Flag)."

Rule Five: Educate the Public About the Hazards of the Job
They encourage emphasizing how dangerous police officers jobs are  and advocate taking reporters to ride along with officers, attend training classes on tactics, or participate in shoot-no-shoot exercises.

Rule Six: Time Heals All Wounds
Drag everything out as long as possible, they advise, and the public will eventually move on. "The longer a high profile incident is off the front page, the easier it is to resolve the case" because "The judge or arbitrator assigned to these cases sometimes feel more media and public pressure immediately after an incident than a year or so later. The more controversial the incident, the more time is your friend."

Rule Seven: Public Trust is Key
They encourage the union to cultivate relationships with businesses and community activists because often they "will step forward to defend police officers in controversial cases. If community leaders come to the defense of their officers, it may lessen the likelihood the officers will face criminal charges, especially if the prosecutor has an elected boss. It may sway management away from severe disciplinary action."

Rule Eight: You Cannot Control the Actions of Your Members 24/7
For union leaders, "The only sin is not expecting anything to happen that would be characterized by the media as controversial." Because it will. "It is not a matter of if, but when the crap will hit the fan." So prepare accordingly.

* * * 

So there you have it. Maybe some of our journalist friends thought that was the playbook - anyone who's watched these episodes closely over time recognizes the pattern described above - but now you know it from the horse's mouth.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Drag everything out as long as possible, they advise, and the public will eventually move on..."

Except for the victim who was shot dead.

The author of this playbook should be removed from any position of authority immediately. What an embarrassment.

TriggerMortis said...

Trump must have read this book. He uses similar tactics.

Anonymous said...

I like how there is a contingency plan for shooting a carload of preachers. ��

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:25, per Grits, the guy is the FORMER head of his group so your wish was granted.

Much of what this spin doctor said in his book was common sense and sounds a great deal like it came from other works on spin doctor techniques in other fields. While I'm not accusing him of plagiarism, how much of his advice was so generic that it sounds like he was trying to justify the huge salary he demanded for all those years? If the information was truly some super secret cookbook of press and population manipulation, the guy wouldn't have put it in a freely distributed book that anyone could buy.

I remember when he sold himself as the second coming to various local police groups, telling them that he had all the right connections with all the right people and how any of them that wanted better pay would only get it through his efforts and the efforts of his organization. It didn't take most union leaders too long to figure out the truth, most of them dropping any related coverage as worthless or greatly over priced, his effectiveness never even close to his claims. As soon as Houston's city unions dumped him, they went on to start getting much better compensation too, perhaps not on the scale of cities like Austin or San Antonio but still better than anyone suspected they could get.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@7:37, not sure I'd agree that "It didn't take most union leaders too long" to abandon DeLord. For starters, he negotiated the SA contract you say is better than Houston's. And his allies and proteges still run CLEAT. He just became an at large consultant with more clients, free time, etc.. He's not a young man anymore.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I'm speaking of the Houston area as local, not parts of the state that have traditionally been better paying, DeLord's efforts falling flat for all the organizations around here. If he had as much success here as he did out there, his group would still hold sway but that was simply not the case.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fair enough. My impression was that there were a few other things going on with the split, but I'm not on the inside of those discussions. That said, I'm also not sure the alliance with TMPA is doing y'all many favors, either.

Regardless, I did think you oversold the extent to which DeLord was on the outs. He's spent a long career at the center of the Texas police union world, and his book from the '90s was effectively treated as a bible by unions across the country, not just in Texas. If now, at the end of his career, the labor movement among law enforcement has become more diverse, with local unions exercising more autonomy and TMPA rising to challenge CLEAT, that's in part IMO because of the work he did to teach unions to wield power in the first place.

The fact that that power was too often used against the interests of the victims of police violence and misconduct has put me on the opposite side of many fights with DeLord and his crew. But disagreeing with him doesn't mean I don't recognize that he was indeed effective at amassing power. Gotta give credit where it's due.

Anonymous said...

$42.00 for a police union playbook? Who in their right mind, would shell out that much money for a police union propaganda paperback?

I wonder how much of the proceeds goes towards the police union?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Ahem ... uh ... well (he said, staring at the ground and digging his toe in the dirt) ... I bought one. :)

Worse, it's not the most expensive paperback I've purchased this year! But then, I have a particular use.

My guess is they can price it that high because most people purchasing it are doing so with union dues. It's not the sort of thing the average person would pick up and read.

Carl E King said...

This is terrible. Thanks for your hard work, investments and research.

Soronel Haetir said...

Too bad they so rarely employ rule #1. The others, though, get plenty of play.

doran said...

The authors left out what should have been Rule Nine: Contribute heavily to the political campaigns at all levels ---local, state and federal election campaigns --
of racists, bigots, useful idiots, lockem up politicians, and neo-fascists.

Or maybe Rule Nine is implied in Rule 7. If so, take every opportunity to point that out to people.

Anonymous said...

Crime Labs follow the same playbook.

Rule 1, find an analyst to be the scapegoat and fire them. Label them as the "Bad Apple". Make sure to release enough "dirt" on them so that they are never interviewed or called to testify.

Rule 3, wrap yourself in "accreditation", "passing audits", "rigorous training", "expertise", "impartial and unbiased", and "national scientific standards".

Rule 4 and 5, backlogged, overworked, underpaid, dedication.

joseph bodden said...

Handbook for tyranny, prepping the ground for seeds of oppression.