Let’s Occupy the Irony

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Remember the cop who pepper sprayed the students at UC-Davis? He’s still on the job.

Why? Because the job protections negotiated by California’s public service unions—that would be the same unions, negotiating power, and job protections the pepper-sprayed occupiers were championing—have made it nearly impossible to fire public employees.

Once placed on administrative leave, he was subject to an internal affairs investigation. The law requires that its findings alone can bear on personnel actions, never mind all the useful evidence collected by the independent consultants, or the analysis performed by the panel of esteemed statesmen. The internal affairs investigation into Lt. Pike’s actions were conducted by Ed McErlain, a former police officer and “senior investigator for Norman A. Traub Associates, which specializes in employment investigations;” and Deborah Maddux Allison, “a partner with the Van Dermyden Allison Law Corporation, who specializes in employment law and workplace investigations.” They were advised by Charles “Sid” Heal, another retired police officer.

Their method and findings are secret.

The public never gets to read them.

Their report was submitted to something called the Sufficiency Review Board, which is supposed to certify its quality and completeness in another secret process. And the secret internal affairs investigation won’t necessarily lead to anything beyond the report itself . . .

Basically, California law dictates that all UC Davis can say about its most controversial officer is “the employment status of the officer, e.g., current employment status and rank.”

For now, he still works there.

Thanks to the job protections California affords to this class of public employees, the thorough, independent review available to the public and the press has no bearing on the fate of the man who inspired it; whereas whether or not he’ll continue to patrol among the very students he needlessly sprayed is determined by a secretive process wholly lacking in transparency, and accountable only to the administrative apparatus whose very failure helped cause the pepper spraying.

California, like many states, has a “Police Officer Bill of Rights,” a set of rights negotiated by the police union afforded to cops under investigation that goes well above and beyond the rights of regular citizens. In some states, if fellow officers don’t follow strict procedures while investigating another cop, the cop under investigation gets off. If you’re cynical, you might say these “Bills of Rights” are how-to guides for cops who want to help a fellow officer get away with misconduct.

I remember at one point early on in the Occupy protests, one faction of the Occupiers in New York was protesting proposed cuts in police pensions, even as the police union in New York was suing the occupiers. And as cops in other parts of the country were beating them. I guess on some level, an some odd sort of principle at work protesting on behalf of the people who are beating you.

My general take on the Occupy movement is the same view I had last fall. I think they were right in most of their diagnoses. Unfortunately, most of their proposed solutions will only exacerbate the same problems they were protesting. As in this case. Strengthen the bargaining power of public service unions, and it’s just going to get more difficult to fire bad cops. (And teachers. And bureaucrats.)

And it’s already pretty damned difficult.

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74 Responses to “Let’s Occupy the Irony”

  1. #1 |  Brandon | 

    “It’s pretty simple really – a cop asks you to do something, then he tells you to do something, and then he makes you do something. Don’t like it? Then do what you are requested.”

    And then there’s your standard-issue bootlicking, for those who lack the foresight to see where that leads and even the basic creativity to come up with a decent fallacy.

  2. #2 |  EH | 

    Mike T: “market-ticker.org” …really?

  3. #3 |  r.l.s.3 | 


    Bullshit. I’ve never had a problem negotiating satisfactory pay and job conditions in the absence of a union. My work ethic and work performance is my leverage. I worked my way out of the blue collar and union dominated world precisely because in that world it is difficult, especially for a younger worker, to get adequately recognized for exceptional work. Worker seniority and maximum pay limits seem to get in the way. After some experience with this, I made sure I got myself some training in a high demand professional field, worked 10 years to get through school, and I haven’t hit a salary ceiling since.

    The last time the union at my company went on strike they managed to get a few concessions in exchange for their 3 months of being out of work. It’ll take them years to make up for the lost income. I know of at least one of them who couldn’t afford the strike and lost his home. They got screwed.

    Like Mattocracy I’m not against the right to organize, I’m against being forced to do it because I can do better on my own, thank you very much.

  4. #4 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    #36 | Ben | April 20th, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Oh give me a break. Every corporation, everywhere, will suppress pay and benefits as much as possible at all times, to maximize profit.

    This is a very simplistic view of employee relations and business. It also seems to state that there can never be a win/win in employment.

    Employers around the world openly compete for the best employees with a basket of attractive items. One of those is profit sharing (via numerous forms).

    To openly complain about “suppressing pay to maximize profits” is much like a salesman crying that his customer wants to actually pay less for a car. Doesn’t the greedy customer know the salesman wants more money? So unfair.

  5. #5 |  Mike T | 


    You left out the fact that in this shitty economy, employers are also struggling because of dropping demand.

  6. #6 |  Joseph Moroco | 

    So now someone who violates the original Bill of Rights cannot be fired because he or she has their own bill of rights.

    In the immortal words of Maynard G. Krebs, “What an age we live in.”

  7. #7 |  Federale | 

    Well, I guess you leftists have a case of not thinking about the changes you make. I guess you all aren’t as bright as you claim. You made your bed, no lie on it.

    Oh, and by the way, what was the result of the investigation? Clearly they found that the use of force was lawful. That is why he is still on the job.

  8. #8 |  Ted S. | 

    JOR wrote at 9:51 am on 20 April:

    Even libertarians who really should know better devolve into idiotic libertoids and mouth the civic textbook platitudes about public “servants” being “our” employees,

    Sometimes, I think we should treat government employees the same way we would treat hired help — and they should treat their bosses the same way the servants in 1930s films would treat their bosses.

  9. #9 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    I will vote for Ted S.

  10. #10 |  Ben | 

    #50 | r.l.s.3

    Congratulations. I’m not in a blue collar job, either, and I’m in a “high demand” field (network engineering). There isn’t any negotiating going on right now. It’s “pay cut or enjoy unemployment”. There just aren’t any jobs, unless you’re willing to do a short-term contract, and I just can’t risk my house and the livelihood of my family living quarter to quarter, hoping there will be another job to hop to in 3 months.

    And I actually agree with you on unions. I don’t think forced unionization is good. But people in this thread seem to be demonizing the existence of unions.

  11. #11 |  Ben | 

    Crap, hit submit before my last point:

    Your argument (and Boyd’s) assumes that individual employees always have some sort of leverage. I’m saying that most certainly is not the case, especially in this market.

  12. #12 |  r.l.s.3 | 


    We had a production contract fall through recently. The line employees (union) were furloughed. In a down market, there is less leverage for everyone, union member or not. It’s no picnic for the company either.

    There is no arguing that unions provide an additional layer of protection against being let go and that protection is useful to some, but I read too many articles about egregious behavior being protected, especially in the public sector, that results in police officers and school teachers being in positions where they don’t belong. Hence the demonizing of unions.

  13. #13 |  r.l.s.3 | 

    One other thing about the down market. I’ve had several members of my department take new jobs and quit lately. We’ve also hired a couple. I interviewed a guy yesterday. Negotiations are increasing, workforce movement is happening, and I’m hopeful the trend will continue.

  14. #14 |  Danny | 

    Glad that the special and unique toxicity of police unions is finally getting some Libertarian attention. It was a vitally important point that got lost in the Wisconsin showdown, most regrettably.

    For those slow on the uptake:


    Sorry to have to go all-caps there, but sometimes I get a little frustrated with the slow learners.

  15. #15 |  r.l.s.3 | 

    No, but they do represent people who have the power to sexually abuse your children:


  16. #16 |  Danny | 

    That article does not bear out your characterization, rls3.

  17. #17 |  pichachu | 

    Jor “#34, To be fair(?), that’s exactly the sort of thing the Taliban would do, since in traditional cultures (which Afghanistan retains) rape is a crime… against a woman’s owner (father or husband). Since a prostitute in such a culture is either unowned or an offender against her owner, raping her is permissible, especially if you execute her afterwards.”

    If only the secret service had known that!

  18. #18 |  Les | 

    Glad that the special and unique toxicity of police unions is finally getting some Libertarian attention.

    Libertarians here, at Reason, and other places have been complaining about police unions for as long as I’ve been reading them.

    And while teachers are less dangerous than police officers, teachers’ unions work just as hard to protect their corrupt and incompetent members as police unions do.

  19. #19 |  Brandon | 

    “Glad that the special and unique toxicity of police unions is finally getting some Libertarian attention.”

    Finally? Jesus fuck, this one word somehow makes this the most aggravatingly stupid comment in this entire thread. You do realize that the article Radley linked to talks about how the Occupy liberals want to protect ALL unions, including the police unions, right? Which means they STILL don’t get the point that you were trying to make, and that libertarians around the country, especially Radley, have been flogging for years if not decades? Or did no one get around to reading that part to you yet?

  20. #20 |  orangeyouglad | 

    “…sometimes I get a little frustrated with the slow learners.” You are absolutely right, the kettle is black.

  21. #21 |  Huey Short | 

    I see where you’re headed with that article. There’s a 180 page pdf. document to be found online about the investigation at U.C. Davis, it’s very detailed. It’s an interesting read.

    What you’ll discover are mistakes by the Chancellor of U.C. Davis in her directions to police, a break in the police chain of command, a cover up, and the fears authority had based on historical area events. The type of pepper spray being used was not authorized on U.C. campuses, among many other things of note totally outside of union and rights issues.

    Of course nothing has happened to Pike and he still has his job. Unions, rights or not he’d still have his job. Why do you think peaceful students are being arrested while the high finance crooks who’ve helped ruin the U.S. who are anti-union and anti civil rights walk free today? No criminal charges have been filed against these treasonous economic criminals.

    The U.C. Davis students were also demonstrating against high tuition fees which the media chose to overlook and play up the Occupy angle. Unions are often blamed for higher educational costs however in fact administration, real estate purchases, expensive construction, and endowments that have been ruined by our national economic are the true culprits.

  22. #22 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @32 – “That the union allowed”.

    Great. Well, in the EU no closed shops are allowed. But I’m not talking hypothetically, it’s something frequently noted. And it’s SO sad that you can hold off the advance of capital into wages by heavily unionising.

    Thanks for highlighting the evils of this.

    @47 – Because the point is it ISN’T different from the Taliban. I have very little use for the police myself, but for highlighting nutty policies like that I tend to fall back on analogies. It’s one of the few things which makes people think!

    @54 – No, they don’t. There are 2 US companies who would hire me the moment I had an unrestricted right to work in America. But it’s literally not worth them TRYING to get me a visa.

    Moreover, please keep defending starvation, because that’s what it’s coming to in the West now, let alone the rest of the world.

  23. #23 |  Labor and employment law roundup | 

    […] Arbitrator: felonious Montgomery County, Maryland cops should keep disability pay [Examiner] “Cop who took naked photos of rape victim can keep pension” [NY Post] Cop who pepper-sprayed UC Davis protesters is still on job, and maybe that’s how they’d have it [Radley Balko] […]

  24. #24 |  Really? | 

    I’m not sure if there is a misconception on here that the Peace Officer Bill of Rights is a union derived document. This is a government code “Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill or Rights Act [Gov’t Code §3300]”. The unions really only provide council to the officer’s accused of violating the law. So this is NOT a union issue.

    And it cracks me up that all of you liberals are complaining of the due process this bill allows officers. It’s very similar to legal due process that protects citizens from being unfairly found guilty of our county’s laws. You will complain that a cop “gets off” because there is not evidence for dismissal but when a criminal finds a way to “get off” because there isn’t enough evidence for prosecution its okay and our system is great.

    I agree there are incidents where a peace officer should be fired for misconduct, but they all deserve the same due process you would give a criminal facing trial.

    For all of you who “haven’t really had a need for cops.” Our society is civilized because of our law enforcement and our county is free because of our military.