Daniel DiSalvo is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a professor of political science in the Colin Powell School at CUNY’s City College of New York. City Journal associate editor Daniel Kennelly spoke with him about his new report for the Manhattan Institute, Enhancing Accountability: Collective Bargaining and Police Reform, and public-sector unions more broadly.
What do we know about the role of police unions in protecting abusive cops?
Not nearly as much as we should. Scholars have not devoted much attention to police unions. There are some articles by political scientists, sociologists, and economists, but the body of work is pretty thin and of varied quality. Law professors have done most of the recent writing. Some of it deals with legal issues, and some of it is empirical. The general findings are that police unions have negative effects on many kinds of outcomes. A few studies find that violence by police increased after the introduction of collective bargaining, and that collective bargaining agreements tend to protect officers with multiple misconduct charges.
What changes should we be making to reduce unjustified uses of force by police?
The hugely difficult task is weeding out the minority of officers who are most likely to abuse citizens without risking the lives and careers of the majority of decent police officers. Governments will need to find ways to recruit and retain good officers. The problem is that there has been so much demonization of the police that it makes the job less attractive.
Another type of public-sector union, teachers’ unions, were also at the center of public policy this year. How would you characterize the role they played amid the Covid-19 pandemic?
The main thing that powerful, big-city teachers’ unions have done is delay in-person instruction. There is some strong evidence that in jurisdictions with strong teachers’ unions, students were less likely to return to the classroom.
What have you read lately, fiction or nonfiction, that sheds light on America’s present moment?
Four books. One is Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant. I was disturbed by the toppling of a Grant statue in San Francisco during this summer’s urban riots. Grant’s life shows a unique sort of democratic greatness in defeating the slave-owning Confederacy and then the Ku Klux Klan, and in trying to grapple with enormously difficult racial problems.
Another is Don Quixote. In our current political environment, when fact and fiction are so often comingled and fantasy and reality often clash, Cervantes is a tremendous—and tremendously funny—guide. He limns the paradoxical absurdity and nobility of trying to revive older traditions.
The third is Tom Holland’s Dominion. This is a huge, sweeping narrative of the impact of Christianity on the world, from the birth of Jesus to the present. Holland makes an interesting case that the moral frameworks of much of our recent political controversies—over the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, gay rights, and more—all operate within a distinctively Christian moral outlook, even if the participants conceive of themselves as entirely secular.
The last book is Stephanie Muravchik’s and Jon A. Shields’s Trump Democrats, an ethnography of three working-class American communities that were solidly Democratic but flipped to Trump in 2016. Rather than stress economic or racial motives for Trump support, as other studies have, they argue that notions of honor culture, attachment to place, and paternalistic political styles shape these communities and make Trump appear socially proximate to them. Such factors did not, however, endear these communities to the broader GOP.
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