Thursday, October 30, 2014

Union: 'Right on Crime' backers are 'bottom-feeders,' 'vultures'

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.

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.
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:
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.

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.
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?

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.


Anonymous said...

I think Charley and the union are spot on. The "right on crime" crowd, TPPF and Marc Levin have been chipping away for some time now at all of the gains which have been made in public safety over the last couple of decades. Anyone who's been paying attention can easily see that increased levels of incarceration and increasing budgetary support of law enforcement agencies across the state and across the country have led to significant decreases in the rate of violent crime. It's funny how cyclical public attitudes toward these criminal justice issues work. When the public all of a sudden feels safe and protected, then it's really easy to redirect public funding to other more noticeable initiatives--e.g., schools, health care, etc.. But when the parole rates go up and violent crime rates increase again, then you'll see another public hue and cry to build more prisons, hire more cops and so on to address the issue. It's the same concept with federal defense spending during times of national peace. Much of the crime spikes of the 70's and 80's were directly attributable to the revolving door prisons of that era and liberal, pro-criminal rulings of the Warren Court. I appreciate low taxes as much as the next fellow, but I really don't feel like Levin, et al, are doing the public any good service by pretending we can all of a sudden dial back criminal justice spending without jeopardizing public safety yet again. And I certainly wouldn't want to be the legislator seeking reelection with the phrase "soft on crime" begins to resonate with the voting public--as it inevitably will.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@11:55, you write that "increased levels of incarceration and increasing budgetary support of law enforcement agencies across the state and across the country have led to significant decreases in the rate of violent crime."

In reality, violent crime has fallen most in states that reduced incarceration levels. (It's fallen everywhere, but a lot less here.) Everybody's entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Anonymous said...

I love you, GRITS. That statement you quote from 11:55 is complete hogwash pulled out of....the air.

Anonymous said...

This type of rhetoric is brought to you by the "tough on crime bunch" usually around election time."
Somehow this "bunch" knows that there is a mass of uneducated voters who are willing to swallow this proverbial hook clear down to their anuses. Heaven forbid the uneducated voters should actually demand T.O.C. campaigners prove how crime was or will be reduced with their tough on crime strategies?
OR when will uneducated voters actually call into question all the wasted tax dollars spent by the "tough on crime but derelict in delivering results bunch?" IE- How did buying a 250k tank or war wagon reduce the crime rate?
Its time to pull the hook out of your mouths and learn something about crime reduction instead of just regurgitating unsubstantiated campaign fodder. It really is getting old and makes people look ignorant when they refuse to let go of the horse shit.

Anonymous said...

CLEAT lacks knowledge of Texas correctional policy and pulled out of the corrections area in the 1990's. AFSCME Texas Correctional Employees is the largest correctional union in the state of Texas and has supported Smart on Crime criminal justice reforms, using these policies to close private prisons. It's best CLEAT stay out of corrections reforms and let the experts in the field make the policies.

Anonymous said...

This guy rants about the motives of those he disagrees with but I bet he's blind to the fact that the massive build up in the para-military law enforcement aparatus in this country puts money in a lot of pockets and law enforcement has become a profitable enterprise for many.

I also like the fact that mentioned the "rights" of police officers. You seldom hear his type talk about defending anyone's "rights."

What we have hear is another example of how a government beuracrat will vigorously fight to keep and build the massive government bueracracy that support him and other like him.

I assume part of his rancor is coming from those who call for an end to the failed war on drugs. Has there ever been a more massive government boondoggle? Only a true bureaucrat could continue to support such.