Prosecutors and Police: An Unholy Union
41 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2019 Last revised: 2 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 1, 2020
In mid-December 2018, assistant prosecutors of St. Louis County in Missouri voted to join their local police union, the St. Louis Police Officers Association. This move has been largely interpreted as a sign of opposition to new elected prosecutor and reformer Wesley Bell, who opposes the death penalty and has expressed a desire to eliminate cash bail. This complete and public union of prosecutorial and police interests represents a collapse not only of prosecutorial ethical standards, but also a very real threat against democratically elected prosecutors who would seek to enact the reforms that their constituents desire. Such unions between prosecutors and police must, if not categorically prohibited, be viewed with great suspicion and caution for a number of reasons, including 1) anti-reformist political lobbying that prosecutors frequently engage in but frequently deny exists; 2) conflicts of interest, and 3) what might be characterized as horizontal separation of powers problems.
It is not, however, only formalized labor unions comprised of police and prosecutors that should be causes of concern. Many scholars, both legal and criminological, have focused on the power of both police and prosecutors and their inimical influence on the criminal justice system and on the communities that they often detrimentally harm. This Article is not only the first to examine the unionization of prosecutors and police, but also the first to contextualize such a formalized relationship in a spectrum including other, more casual connections, such as job affiliation groups, friendships, and even romantic liaisons. This Article also proposes a novel approach to prosecutorial cultural change, looking to examples from industries such as aerospace and medicine for interventions and inspiration. Future Articles will explore in greater depth why allowing prosecutors to unionize, even apart from involvement of other public safety unions, would have a negative impact on the public interest, and why prosecutors and police forming tighter bonds may negatively impact case investigation and operational policy.
Keywords: prosecutors, police, criminal justice, labor, unions
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