Targeting Police Unions, Rethinking Reform



Police unions are a powerful obstacle to reform and abolition movements alike. This article tracks the (re)emergence of a political strategy targeting police unions as a site of police reform and abolition amid the summer 2020 uprising. It takes Washington, D.C.’s Defund MPD (Metropolitan Police Department) movement as a case study on the successful targeting of police unions. The D.C. Defund movement imposed radical demands, achieved measurable restrictions on police union power, and, in doing so, revealed new possibilities for the role of police union contracts in divestment and community control. The D.C. Defund movement influenced the D.C. Council to pass legislation restricting the bargaining power of the D.C. Police Union and itself leveraged the police union contract as a site of transformation. By closely analyzing the course of the D.C. Defund movement’s campaign against a police union, this article elucidates the larger challenges posed by police unions and explores strategies for addressing them that have been previously overlooked.

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