Reimagining Police Union Contracts

A group of people raisng their hands and standing in a street with police



Center for Justice Research

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Houston, Texas – November 30, 2021 – The collective bargaining agreements between a city and a police department dictate how deeply an officer can be investigated if they are accused of misconduct. These formal working contracts influence a wide range of other protections for police officers – how severely they can be disciplined for misconduct; the appeals process that may give an officer their job after being fired; which records detailing police brutality can be disclosed or destroyed, among other important details that shape the relationship between police departments and the general public.

One of the most egregious examples of police union contracts protecting officers in instances of killing Black Americans is former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who faced no charges after he shot 18-year-old Michael Brown to death in 2014. Wilson was not charged with a crime in the shooting. Such verdicts for police officers who kill people in a similar manner may continue if police union contracts are allowed to remain in their current form.

In order to hold police accountable for murder and misconduct, the current style of bargaining agreements between police unions and their municipalities has to be realigned to give the public – especially Black and other fragile communities – more protection while holding officers to the same standards as everyone else. That’s why the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University is partnering with Campaign Zero to determine what a police contract needs – and doesn’t need – in order to maintain public safety in a culturally responsive manner that respects all ethnicities and communities.

“This project provides more than an opportunity to identify problems, it is based on solutions. In the end, a model police union contract will be made available for departments who wish to implement a more collaborative experience”, says Howard Henderson, Professor and Director of the Center for Justice Research

Since launching The Police Union Contract Project in 2015, Campaign Zero has been documenting police union contracts and police bill of rights laws in a public database. Also detailed in the project is how police union contracts and these laws make it harder to hold officers accountable for misconduct. In most cities, police union contracts command a large portion of a city budget, constraining leaders from increasing resources for social and mental health programs.

CJR researchers Dr. Jennifer Wyatt Bourgeois, Dr. Julian Scott, Denise Brown, Olumuyiwa Soyele, Melissa Kwende, and Domenique Montgomery are reviewing police union contracts and building a report that identifies the unfair advantages police have at the expense of public safety.

“The #NixTheSix contract review process spanned several weeks, and it was an opportunity for the CJR team to see how the wording in union contracts to hold officers responsible and rethink public safety are thwarted, delayed, or defeated by police unions. The power of police unions is excessive, and a step towards reimagining policing should consist of holding officers accountable for their actions,” says Jennifer Bourgeois, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Justice Research.

As a premier research institution in Houston that works on projects including predictors of per capita complaints against police and the impact of qualified immunity on communities, CJR is a perfect fit to scrutinize police union contracts. The research should provide an immediate positive gain for Houston as Campaign Zero identifies that police in the Bayou City have limited oversight, access to unfair information, erases misconduct records, and other special privileges.

As part of the project, CJR will:

  • Identify details in police union contracts that allow police to abuse privileges and avoid consequences for misconduct.
  • Supply recommendations on how to improve police – community relations.

“We can live in an America where the police do not kill people. By implementing the right policy and systemic changes, we can end police killings and other forms of police violence in the United States.” – Campaign Zero


More about the Center for Justice Research

Center for Justice Research provides a culturally responsive approach to mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. Our targeted research advances data-driven solutions by supporting innovation, collecting committed reformers, compelling policy arguments and engendering broad consensus amongst community stakeholders.

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