By Barry Sherman
First, let me start out by telling you when I feel these two do mix. Several weeks ago I received a call from a newspaper reporter who was writing a story on a local police labor organization who had worked successfully on defeating an incumbent mayor. Her question to me centered on whether or not this type of activity was ethical for police officers. My response to her was: not only was it ethical but in some cases it is essential. Why should police officers’ labor organizations be any different from the Teamsters, UAW, teachers, skilled trades, or any other labor union who would do the same thing?
It is more common for such organizations to support candidates. However, there are times when working to defeat them becomes necessary. This could happen if the agenda of the candidate who is running for election or re-election becomes detrimental to the organization. I was always an advocate of and stayed involved in our Political Action Committees in my years with the Livonia POA and then later with the command officers. For several years in the 1980s, our POA had even joined forces with the firefighters, public works employees and the Livonia Education Association to implement a combined interview and endorsement process for local candidates.
Having established that, I will now tell you when I feel that police and politics do not mix. This would be in cities where the police chief and the upper echelon of the organization are appointed and serve at the pleasure of the mayor. The interference and pressure that can be exerted on the organization can and in some cases render the management of the organization ineffective. This became very evident recently in the City of Detroit if one is to believe the authenticity of the text messages (and why wouldn’t we?) in the present scandal involving Detroit’s mayor. I read with amazement and disgust the revelations of the text messages that were made public in the document that was authored by attorney Michael Stefani titled “Plaintiffs’ Supplemental Brief In Support of Their Motion For Attorney Fees and Cost.” This document highlights an attempted gross manipulation of the Internal Affairs section of the Detroit Police Department by those in political power, namely Christine Beatty the mayor’s then Chief of Staff. City hall not only orchestrated the removal of former Deputy Chief Gary Brown from heading the Internal Affairs Section; it also recommended those who should replace him and his command staff. Even more alarming was the fact that this appears to have been done behind the back of then police Chief Jerry Oliver as text messages indicate that Ms. Beatty was dealing with other appointees in the police administration.
I don’t want to just dwell on Detroit, as many other major American cities’ police departments are plagued by such political interference. It only stands to reason that if you want to keep your job as chief you are going to have to succumb to some political pressure from the boss.
This issue was highlighted in a recent article appearing in National Review Online authored by Jack Dunphy about illegal immigration in the Los Angeles area. The present appointed chief in that city is William Bratton. You may recall Bratton served as Commissioner for NYPD under Rudolph Giuliani for two years (1994-1996). He then worked as a private consultant until he was appointed LAPD’s 54th Chief in October of 2002. Bratton works for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who is openly sympathetic to illegal immigration. Mr. Dunphy points out that LAPD is governed by Special Order 40, which prohibits officers from taking police action solely based on a person’s immigration status. Retired LAPD Sergeant Dennis Zane who is now a City Councilman, proposed a change to Special Order 40 that would authorize officers to report illegal alien gang members to immigration authorities. Well, Mayor Villaraigosa and Chief Bratton both opposed this change. Dunphy stated: “That Bratton should echo the mayor’s sentiments comes as no surprise to those of us who have witnessed his transformation from the no-nonsense police chief who arrived in L.A. in 2002 to the uniformed politician he is today.” It may also come as no surprise to you that Bratton was reappointed in 2007 to a second five – year term. This was the first reappointment of an LAPD chief in several decades.
Professional policing in this country has come a long way. It is unfortunate that politics tend to work against this progress.