How police union contracts enable misconduct

Hundreds of contracts were reviewed and analysed in partnership with Canadian tech company

How police union contracts enable misconduct
Noah Waisberg, CEO of Kira Systems

The U.S. movement Campaign Zero recently partnered with the Kira Systems, a Canadian company which builds contract analysis and review software, and together have analysed hundreds of police union contracts, determining how these contracts enable police to evade accountability for misconduct.

Campaign Zero is aimed at ending police violence by limiting police interventions, improving community interaction and promoting police accountability. The data-driven campaign was started by activists DeRay McKesson and Sam Sinyangwe and used Kira Systems’ machine-learning artificial intelligence technology to analyse around 700 police union contracts.

“Even in places where people want to challenge the power of the police – to fire officers or change the budget – it becomes really hard when the contract limits that opportunity,” says McKesson.

Through their research, McKesson and Sinyangwe arrived at six main protections, common among police union contracts, which shield officers from accountability. Many contain provisions which disqualify misconduct complaints brought too many days after the incident occurs. Often the contracts prevent police officers from being interviewed directly after the incident and otherwise restrict, how, when and where this interview occurs. Also, before those interviews take place, officers are given access to information about the complaint, something to which a civilian being investigated for a crime would not have access.

Police union contracts also typically require cities to pay the costs related to the misconduct, including paid leave, legal fees and the settlement cost. Officers with a history of misconduct are also allowed to have that information scrubbed from their personnel files. And finally, contracts often limit disciplinary consequences by limiting the capacity of civilian oversite structures and media to hold police accountable.

“These protections are, are everywhere. They are baked into contracts all over the country,” says McKesson. “These are not a set of isolated protections. This is a coordinated strategy on behalf of the police to build these protections in laws and contracts across the country, that almost guarantee they will not be held accountable.”

Noah Waisberg is CEO of Kira Systems and connected with Campaign Zero after colleague heard McKesson on a podcast. McKesson discussed how the group was focused on police union contracts because they saw them as a vector through which bad police behaviour was being enabled, says Waisberg. The host asked McKesson what he would do with a donation of $250,000, to which McKesson replied he would simply put it toward hiring more people to read the union contracts, so they could get through the process more quickly.

“What I realized… a big barrier for Campaign Zero – who seemed to be doing really useful work – was just reviewing contracts. And so that seemed like something where we could help.”

Waisberg and Kira took the campaign on as a client, free of charge, and Waisberg says they increased Campaign Zero’s contract review efficiency by 70 per cent.

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