Aaron Bekemeyer, Harvard University | Newberry

Aaron Bekemeyer, Harvard University

Friday, September 14, 2018

3 tp 5pm

Labor History Seminar

Who Commands the Police? The Fight Against Civilian Review and the Origins of Modern Police Unionism

This paper examines the origins of the modern police union movement in the second half of the 20th century through a case study: the fight by Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge No. 5 to eliminate Philadelphia’s Police Advisory Board. Historians have carefully documented and analyzed the decline of the American labor movement since the 1970s, but scholars have only recently begun to attend to the public-sector unions that resisted or even bucked this trend. Police unions are among the few unions thathave retained high density, strong contracts, and substantial political power over the past half century. In order to explain this contemporary power, this paper returns to an earlier struggle in the 1950s and 1960s, when FOP Lodge No. 5 fought against and ultimately succeeded in killing the city’s Police Advisory Board, an instrument of civilian review. That struggle ultimately hampered civilian review efforts throughout the country and elevated Lodge No. 5’s leader to the presidency of the FOP, from which position he lobbied for federal crime legislation, mediated police strikes, and secured collective bargaining rights for police around the country. This paper explores how these earlier struggles over the terms and scope of police accountability politically activated police union leaders and set the police union movement on the path to the power and prominence it occupies today.

Respondents: Simon Balto, University of Iowa and Tera Agyepong, DePaul University

Cost and Registration Information 

Newberry Scholarly Seminars papers are pre-circulated. For a copy of the paper, email scholarlyseminars@newberry.org. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.