Pooler Police spotlighted in viral YouTube video by independent journalist

This is one of the more resistant police departments, resulting in a confrontation.

The video was picked up by  WJCL News  on Jan 20,2022 and has 2.6 million views as of June 2.


Viewer Comments:

  • Props to WJCL for uploading this video at length. Great news agency.
  • Remember this is being done to someone that knows his rights on a camera. Imagine the things they do to citizens that don’t know their rights off camera.


  • The way they treat him is gross, but what’s really nauseating is how much they squirm at not being able to treat him worse.
  • The guy that integrated cameras into cellphones has done more for civil rights by accident than any politician has done for civil rights on purpose.
  • This is normal behavior and, what is soooo disturbing is how much they want to lock this guy up. This is what the police departments do all across the US and cell phones have documented their behavior for everyone to see.
  • to the lady in the office, 10/10 you deserve a promotion. FAULTLESS.

How it should have gone down.
Caller: There’s a stranger in the parking lot.
Police: what’s the problem?
Caller: He’s videotaping.
Police: That’s not a crime.
Caller: But it’s creepy.
Police: That’s not a crime either. Call us back when you actually see a crime committed.


  • Okay, hear me out. There are so many of these videos here on Youtube. Always the same exact scenario where the cop throws a fit about a guy with a camera doing absolutely nothing illegal. I’m just an old washed up dart player but I even know what you can and cannot do with a camera and I would even know, depending on what state you live in that you can’t demand ID from someone who is doing nothing wrong. So basically WTF is wrong with all these cops? Is it an ego thing? I definitely feel like the Chief is the type who feels he is above the law. “His parking lot” over and over. First of all, it’s not “his” parking lot. He doesn’t own it and works for the people. This shit pisses me off! Cops apparently need MUCH better training than they have now.


  • It seems like a common theme with all of these videos, the police demand and overstep and when the auditor shows their knowledge the cop doesn’t usually correct themselves. They usually always try to stick to their wrong argument. It only makes it worse for them, it makes them look like they have massive egos.
  • All across the United States, police departments are getting educated. It is just a shame that the public has to do it.


  • like others have said, if they’ll act like this in front of someone who verbally told them he’s a JOURNALIST with a camera in their face, imagine what they do/how they act towards other people off camera
  • The guy that integrated cameras into cellphones has done more for civil rights by accident than any politician has done for civil rights on purpose.
  • When your an officer who is following the law, you have no issue identifying yourself even on camera. An officer who is required to identify to the public and doesn’t knows they have done something wrong. Go above him and have him fired.
  • Wow….I’m in law enforcement and this was hard to watch. Definitely on the side of the cameraman here, who knew his stuff and carried himself with dignity. The police were terrible- ignorant and worse, likely deliberately obstructive. And yes, they absolutely were bullies. If they had just behaved like the city clerk, (professionally) probably none of us would be watching this video. Very sad….
  • This type of behavior from a public employee is terrifying and dangerous, public employees are funded by citizens but yet they try to bully us around and talk to us like that, completely disgusting for a police chief. If corporate showed up at my job and I acted like this in front of them I would no longer have a job… Completely shameful to your own family and to your country.


  • “My employees”, “my parking lot”, and “my building”. That’s what the so called Chief said. He needs to understand absolutely none of that belongs to him! The staff are public servants and the property belongs to the people!
  • I’ve lost count how many times I’ve had similar experiences from small town police officers. It’s plainly evident why so much public trust has been eroded in regards to law enforcement.
  • I was in the army and ive seen what bad leadership ruin a platoon of soldiers. Your right about it starting from the top and bleeding down into the rest. I cant stand cops like this and it gets me so angry watching these videos that my hands start to shake. I give you alot of credit for handling this so smoothly and professionally. I hope this is updated with a good happy video. These guys are crazy.


  • I’m from Savannah, Ga 20 mins away and we don’t messed with Pooler police they are rude and have nasty behavior. Imagine not knowing the laws and how many ppl they arrested over stupid stuff.


  • Thank you for doing this it’s hard here in georgia. People need to see this stuff.Its awful, people can be taken into custody here without warrants or cause and no due process and any atonney you get charges more than you can afford to get the legal help you need and they are on the same payroll if they are pro bono. The DOJ hasn’t the time to deal with individual cases of civil rights violations outside prison walls.So any entity of law enforcement can go unchecked on taking advantage of people or their families here in georgia
  • I live in Pooler and can absolutely confirm these guys are an egotistical bunch
  • This is why I moved out of Georgia. The corruption in the southeast part of Georgia is insane. Long County, Liberty County is worse then this. And for the Pooler Police Chief to act in this manner is grounds for immediate termination with charges of violating civil rights while under oath.
    • Turner County Georgia was a known speed trap for years. I think they finally got caught
  • This is basically most small towns in the US. “My parking lot” “My lobby” “My building” as the Chief of Police says. and they get away with it day in and day out. Its disgraceful
  • It’s unprofessionalism and ignorance from the top down. You can tell there is a lot of unlawful things going around in the city of Pooler. This is disgusting
  • How do cops still not know when they can or can’t request ID. Seems like basics for their job.
    • They know, they just don’t want the public to know… It is best to learn the law’s for your County, City and state. I have I am in Georgia and know this fact! Those clowns need to be investigated!!!!!
  • Accepting his own compliant then decides for himself he can just make it invalid ? That’s tyranny in every sense. Update ?
  • This type of behavior from a public employee is terrifying and dangerous, public employees are funded by citizens but yet they try to bully us around and talk to us like that, completely disgusting for a police chief. If corporate showed up at my job and I acted like this in front of them I would no longer have a job… Completely shameful to your own family and to your country.
  • I was in the army and ive seen what bad leadership ruin a platoon of soldiers. Your right about it starting from the top and bleeding down into the rest. I cant stand cops like this and it gets me so angry watching these videos that my hands start to shake. I give you alot of credit for handling this so smoothly and professionally. I hope this is updated with a good happy video. These guys are crazy.
  • Good thing you’re recording them because they probably would’ve been a lot more aggressive with you thanks for doing this
  • The chief looked like he wanted to beat the crap out of him! Thank the camera. I feel bad for his wife when he gets home 🤕
  • It’s unprofessionalism and ignorance from the top down. You can tell there is a lot of unlawful things going around in the city of Pooler. This is disgusting


  • The scary part of all of this is when we realize that these people write reports on people that a judge reads in a court of law.
  • That cop with the glasses knew where this was going and wanted no part of it lol
  • I love how cops try to make people do as they say simply because they have that uniform. Cops like this bring such shame to their title.
  • It sickens me that public servants allow that police are trained to bully and not to obey constitutional law and rights of those they serve
  • I love to watch cops search for a reason to get you to comply… First they say you can’t be here, then they say it’s private property, then they tell you it’s trespassing, then they try to tell you you can’t film into restricted areas from public. Watching you shoot down everyone of their attempts is hilarious. Really makes our cops look inept
    • dont forget this one….’YOUR MAKING PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE’
  • I hate how they always demand ID, often for no reason even when they KNOW they are dealing with someone who either knows the law or chooses to enforce their constitutional right.
  • That is pretty crazy. Would not believe law enforcement believes they can legally do that to a law abiding citizen. What a shame.
  • This is why auditors are so important. 💕
  • Watch an actual boatload of these in the UK. Knowing what we do about US pigs, big up to you, man. UK auditors would never have left the building, but I totally understand why you would in America. Before you know it, we’d have a body bag, a lost camera, no body worn camera footage, and an F-ton of lies. Respect. 👊❤
  • The city clerk and both security guards know more about constitutional law and rights, than the ones who swore an oath to protect those very same rights.
  • “This is the public lobby, you’re gonna kick me out of the public lobby too, chief?” That part was so funny to me. 😂
  • Utterly pathetic behavior! They’re supposed to be “law” enforcement, not “feelings” enforcement.
  • As much as I think this guy on camera is being a pain in the ass, at the same time, I appreciate that we have rights in this country and law enforcement officers are public servant who have to obey the laws themselves and follow the protocols.
  • “We need backup immediately, this guy keeps talking about his rights”
  • Without taking this to court. NOTHING will happen or change.
  • Did they get away with bullying you? That’s at least debatable. It depends on, if you let them get away. There should be a follow up. Like you said, go above the Chiefs head. Ok, excellent job on the video, overall. Just one small note, the guards from the court house, didn’t treat you the same as everyone else. They held you up, from your Right, even if it was just for a short moment.
  • Notice his he said “get out of ‘my’ parking lot.” It’s because that’s how he sees it he believes that’s ”his” building “his” employees when really it’s “our” parking lot and “our” building that’s a big part of the problem
  • Don’t assume the mayor doesn’t go along with this. The citizens of Pooler have to push back against the mayor and City Council and anyone else who approves the appointments to City positions.
  • ugh, these cops are so ignorant and power hungry. love to the auditors for taking the time to educate cop gangs. I pray the auditors get law representation to gain awareness and better protection. I blame the us Supreme Court for ruling cops don’t actually have to know the law they enforce at the point of a gun and gang behavior.
  • i love how much they back down and run away when they realise you know your rights
  • Whilst I can understand the frustration of those officers, they really do need to be up to date in what is and is not allowable under the law. They looked chumps as they were in the wrong.
  • Guy says – “I am just an employee here.”, but he is wearing a badge on his belt. They don’t issue badges to “just employees”. Only sworn officers receive badges.
    •  @Kirk Callender  I thought that too but he gave his name and badge number when asked then later took the badge off. I’m pretty sure he lied.
    •  @Fly Over Radio  Exactly what I was gonna say. He gave his name and number and identified as a policeman. If he wasn’t then why was he surrounding him with the other cops? Seems like he knows police intimidation tactics/practices.
  • These are the kind of thuggish cops which you encounter regularly in these types of jurisdictions. The local citizens are typically afraid to stand up to them since this is, quite frankly, all they know.
  • He investigated himself and found he did nothing wrong! Think…if they treated a law abiding citizen like this, how do they treat suspects?
  • These “tough guys” are the same cowards who run AWAY from danger.
  • Would like to see your complaints being addressed by the Mayor!
  • The lady in the office should be the Police Chief.
  • I’ve been robbed, assaulted, publicly harassed, crashed into, threatened with guns, etc. Never once did the police catch any of the people who did these things, unless it required the absolute minimum effort because the person who crashed into me totaled their car. Conversely, I’ve been harassed & intimidated by police semi-regularly throughout my life -just because they were bored & feeling the need to bully. The only time I met a nice officer was when my mom was dating him when I was a kid. Thus to me, the vast majority of cops are lazy/incompetent and the rest are bullies.
  • Im 60 and every interaction I’ve had with Police has been a difficult one throughout my life. Ive always been treated like a criminal every time… Trying to acuse me of things i haven’t done or downright lying to me for no reasons at at. No benefit to anyone, just an excuse to stand over and intimidate me because im an ugly man…if i was a blonde woman with a lovely face it would be completely different.
  • It’s never “one or two bad apples”. Corrupt and outright evil policing either starts at the top, or is stopped from there.
  • Cops never say the full text: A few bad apples “spoil the whole barrel”.
  • The cameras just changes the games. Without a camera this guy will be on jail.
  • 13:21 “How do I file the complaint if I can’t get into the building?” Damn that’s helllla funny
  • “I’m a police officer. I asked you for your ID. I need you to give me your ID.” The correct response is: “I’m a citizen. I haven’t done anything wrong. I need you to kick rocks.”
  • The shame of it is the city attorney said they acted appropriately. The chief and locals also say they acted appropriately. The locals are probably terrified to do anything because they’ll be arrested
    • Pooler is just out side of Savannah where I lived for over 20 years and everyone knows that the Pooler police will write tickets for the most minor and insignificant infractions. For example, there was a women giving a ticket for driving while distracted because while she sat at a red light she took one hand off the steering wheel to take a bite of a sandwich.
    • So the City attorney agreed that it was proper for the Sgt. to demand ID with no RAS, that it was legal to trespass him out of the parking lot, that it was proper to restrict his access to city services because he was recording, that he was required to identify himself in a public complaint, that it was proper for the Sgt. to accept the complaint on his superior officer? Are you sure he was really an attorney or maybe he just plays one on TV? I guess he will have a second crack at these question in court. As Mr. T would say, “I pity the fool.”
  • They have been doing this for so long and getting away with it.
  • I’m Black, so if l went in there, l probably wouldn’t be able to leave for about 15 to years…..
  • Imagine how they treat the prisoners
  • I like how men with guns and tasers always say someone’s making them feel uncomfortable 😂😂
  • Officers took an oath to uphold their State and Federal Constitutions, which means affirming the constitutionally protected rights of US citizens. The law-abiding citizen has no obligation to provide ID under such circumstances, it is the police who have to jump over the legal hurdles such as reasonable suspicion and probable cause to detain, ask for ID, or arrest. I developed training on this for officers as far back as 2014, even then officers did not like the idea of having limited power in such situations. Ego maybe? Unfortunately, more training and regular training are needed nationwide in this area, which would save a lot of grief, embarrassment, and tax dollars. This was an unnecessary power struggle between the officers, the Chief, and the filmer. Regardless of the filmer’s true intentions, his rights should be affirmed. The fact that the police are called, that someone doesn’t like the filmer lawfully being there, doesn’t override the filmer’s constitutional rights. Once the filmer’s lawful status is determined, they should be free to carry on, without interference.
  • I can only imagine what these small town cops do to people . That is a real bad State a Canadian woman was arrested her car towed and she was put in jail. The small town cop who didn’t know that Canadians are allowed to drive in the USA with there Canadian drivers license just like Americans are allowed to drive in Canada with there US license
  • Q: Are your a detective, or a sergeant? A: I’m just an employee, man. An employee who is fronting with a badge on his hip, and previously gave his badge number … “just an employees” don’t have badges. Dude was definitely a detective, and lied … though, ironically, it’s legal for the police to lie.
  • the “employee” with the beard and glasses is just as guilty as the sergeant and the chief by his omission to act. he witnessed the behaviour of the sergeant and the chief and was complicit in their actions. he probably knows that the chief and the sergeant are a pair of idiots and thought no way am i getting involved with this. he`s the type of guy that disappears in a bar room brawl.
  • I understand why and what you are doing and strongly believe doing so is an important audit of public employees. If you want to report on this unconstitutional behavior it is my opinion it would be much better done without the descriptive editorializing (“tyrant, Bully, making fun of someone’s name) which reduces the effectiveness of the reporting and appears childish. This audit work is important yet diminished in it’s reporting by this.

Cops arrested him for filming in public, but things took a bizarre turn when the case went to court


The arrest of a Texas cop watcher for filming in public is the most recent chilling example of how law enforcement across the country is attempting to roll back auditors’ First Amendment rights. Jack Miller, also known as Texas Sheepdog, was filming outside the Olmos Park, Texas, City Hall when police arrested and charged him with multiple crimes. The ensuing five-day trial and jury verdict reveal that citizens’ ability to film in public is facing new obstacles and concerted pushback from the government.



He should have immediately filed an appeal and had his sentence stayed a federal judge would have looked at that video and put a halt to the entire sentence
Assault on a Police Officer? He never touched them. Or Is hurting their fragile feelings by cursing at them a Federal Offense?
Maybe if the police stopped making frivolous arrest, they wouldn’t have to worry about charges being dropped. The police need to know and understand the law!
…Let me get this straight. He went out to film a PSA about not threatening cops, only to have the cops brutally assault him trying to help cops. The Irony in this story is off the charts. 📈🤦🏿
It would be interesting to hear the jury instructions. Should be appealed.
I have to believe that that jury had no idea what they were doing I saw nothing of what they charged him with.
This is a prime example of how our justice system is not about right or wrong but about money and power and ego’s
I’m surprised they aren’t drug testing you twice per day! (They charge you $30.00 each time!) Its a money racket… Financial extortion! Probation is far worse than serving the time … (Never accept probation!) – Michael B. Saari for Michigan State Senate 2022
He needs to get himself a lawyer who knows what the law is. Being a retired lawyer I cannot believe that he was convicted
how in the hell did a trial get the majority of the the jurors to have a guilty plea? it is SUPER clear to me that he wasnt resisting, and VERY clear that he did not attack a police officer and the fact that it was a toy gun not an actual fire arm means how did they tack on a fire arm charge with no fire arm? this sounds EXTREMLY fishy to me ( meaning like corruption )
>> Yeah, the gun charges got me as well… isn’t this in an open carry state and that was a toy rifle SLUNG over his back? Not very menacing.
Weaponized law enforcement. Imagine that.
I’m wondering how a jury can find you guilty of resisting arrest when there was no crime committed. Resisting arrest is a secondary charge. I would say I want another jury trial with new jury members, as seeing as those jurors must be incredibly incompetent. There was no crime to begin with, so how was resisting arrest of a crime that was never committed? 2nd Amendment? That’s not a crime. Blocking a pathway? Didnt see him blocking anyone. And assault on a peace officer!?!?!? Where in this video does it show this man lay a single finger on these cops!?!?!?!? Except maybe he pulled away from them when THEY TRIED TO GRAB HIM!!! And they tackled him to the ground, pulled his arm behind his back essentially breaking it to where he needed surgery 2 days later, hes laying there crying in pain, and they charged him with Assault on a peace officer!?!?!? Get the fuck outta here dude!!! So even though he had a fake gun (Even if real, we still have 2nd amendment), was not blocking a single person on the sidewalk, didnt commit a crime at all, and was the one brutally tackled to the ground and had his arm broken, he is still somehow found guilty on all charges? What video did these jurors see, because I see the complete opposite of these charges. Once again, to recap… Fake Gun, blocking no one’s movement, didnt lay a single finger on either of those cops, no crime committed, and being the victim of assault and battery and hes still charged with disorderly (Possibly Brandishing with intent to harm), blocking pathway, assault on peace officer, and resisting arrest!?!?!?!?!? What kind of a system are we in where we find our fellow man guilty at the hands of the corrupts crimes? I’m scared to live in this society. I dont want today’s corruption and abuse to be my future….

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Cop retaliates by asking veteran to step out of vehicle

Mt. juliet police department


  • The reason that police officer asked you to get out of your car was a power trip and it made his ego feel bigger.


  • This gentleman just exposed what the public is up against and certainly is NOT the treatment we pay for. The fact that this supervisor can NOT be honest just further highlights the problem with cops.


  • As soon as a cop says, this isn’t a courtroom. You’ve proved they have no case.
  • Really good way he went about doing this, instead of arguing with the supervisor he told him to talk to the cop who didn’t explain to him what he did wrong. This is a perfect interrogation question.
  • There was no reason for this man to get out of his car for a simple traffic stop. This supervisor is covering for this cop
  • The cop was angry because you used your rights to not talk and to record. So he had to do a power play and pull you out of the car. The cops can’t explain it any other way. Because we can….FTP
  • You decided to exercise your right and that’s suspicious to us
  • I LOVE how you turned their “officer safety” around on them!!
  • When an officer is vain enough to say I don’t care, they should automatically be liable to pay out of their pay for any lawsuits that come of the situation. They’re use to citizens paying for their mistakes
  • He was pulled out because this vet didn’t lick the cop’s boots. It’s their way of bullying and exerting power over citizens that don’t kiss their asses.
  • Like you said this is why there is a disconnect with the public and the police. Their ego over the law.
  • Why is he so clearly annoyed by a member of the public exercising his 1st amendment right to free press while he interacts with the officer. Honestly it’s infuriating to see a Public Servant annoyed at a citizen using rights. How unprofessional. Clear conduct unbecoming of an officer. Very rude and unprofessional.
  • You’re a very smart individual the way you manipulated that. You wanted to know so you don’t do that again was a genius move.👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽
  • Absolutely it was harassment there was no reason to pull him out of the car. That cop knows it anyone who watched this video knows it.
  • We can all clearly see he was butt hurt and wanted to some how gain back power.
  • He asked him to get out of the vehicle because he was hoping the man would refuse so then he could tase him, drag him out, and arrest him. All because he didn’t like the man invoking his 5th amendment rights!
  • Nice job with maintaining your composure while our public servants did not! This is a good example of egotistical tyranny in our cities. They earn the respect the get.
  • This gentleman is lucid, coherent, and makes good points. The officers should be embarrassed by their behavior and their ‘copsplaining’…
  • Isn’t it interesting how they always say “I don’t mind you recording its already being recorded by myself, that officer over there and this officer” what they DON’T tell you, is that you will have to PAY for THEIR recordings and that they will redact anything that shows them acting unlawfully.
  • You can do what you want to but you are gonna stand over there if I tell you to stand over there” ahhh, the double think and speak of a tyrant
  • It’s weird how some cops freak the f*** out if you get out of your vehicle on your own during a traffic stop because of “officer safety” … yet when they want to really assert their authority, they will demand you get out of your vehicle. Cops always tell you they are recording via their body cams, yet they get very defensive and confrontational when you (we) record them, because they only want ONE recorded version of the incident. They can mute their body cams on the spot, lose (delete) the footage when it’s requested. Any cop worth his weight would never, ever mind being recorded during any interaction with a member of the public. Ego should never play a part in how a cop performs his duties.


  • Cop got butt hurt do he had to show you who’s in charge. By pulling you out of the vehicle. BTW, never let a public servants to speak to you with an attitude. Especially being a veteran. 12:08 cop “you’re going to stand over there if that’s what I tell you to do”. That should’ve set you off. Law enforcement has no authority over you!
  • So I guess exercising your constitutional rights in the presence of a law enforcement officer is now a form of Defiance , or their absolute favorite saying , Uncooperative….
  • We all know that the driver was pulled out of the vehicle in order for the officer to passively control what the driver’s camera was able to witness.
  • LT has zero authority to tell this free citizen where to freaking stand if he’s not being detained. Absolutely ridiculous behavior.
  • What’s amazing to me is the cop showed Zero respect for the Veteran and treated him like an enemy
  • You go boy all I got to say is BOOOOM . He turned it all around when he asked that supervisor what he did wrong to make the officer feel unsafe.
  • you’re gonna stand right there if that’s what I tell you to do” who do these people think they are? Bloody low lives
  • Just imagine if we could treat cops the way they treat us.
  • “If you wanna go to court on it” That’s the truth right there, they KNOW the justice system is broken and KNOW they have zero accountability. “We do what we want, don’t like it, take it to court where the system will chew you up” “You’ve already filed your complaint” lol, yeah sure he was going to file paperwork on that and start an investigation.
  • 15:22 This is where the “supervisor” misquotes and thus misunderstands the SCOTUS ruling. Police have a wide range of description in where they conduct a traffic stop based on “officer and detained individual safety”. The auditor points out the officer has abused his entrusted authority to use this description as a bully tactic which is not related to officer (or detained individual) safety. It’s a far too common practice which needs to be eliminated in order to regain public trust in law enforcement.
  • Pennsylvania v Mimms says an officer can ask u to step out for “officer safety”. Not just because a cop “feels like it” or “wants u to”.
  • And still none of those Sovereign Citizens with Badges and Guns has given a REASON for why a Docile Law Abiding Citizen made that Supposedly trained and qualified Officer “feel unsafe”, and yet STILL failed to ensure his safety with a pat down. Because it obviously WAS a tactic to instill fear and blind obedience to his Tyranny. It’s also extremely disappointing to see the other two completely ignore their own oaths to the Law and Constitution. Bully with a Badge, afraid the camera is going to document his distain for the Citizens who pay his salary.
  • 15:20 the Corporal said is doesnt matter what he calls it! Oh! I very much DOESNT matter because when that deprivation of rights lawsuit comes and the other cops qualified immunity is on the line the jury will have to decide what a OTHER reasonable officers would have done in that same situation!
  • Cause I wanted to” isn’t a lawful reason to require someone to exit their vehicle. That’s something that is lawful for officer safety but “cause I wanted to” isn’t an officer safety thing.
  • The only reason he was asked to get out was to intimidate him for saying he wasn’t going to answer questions, as his right. That was the only reason.
  • Mimms v PA says they can pull you from the car if they fear for their safety. That’s it. Not because they “feel like it”

Police: He would have been dead 20 years ago and his teeth would be Missing

utter could be heard on body cam saying
that reyes would have been dead 20 years
ago adding his teeth would be missing
while i understand that you were clearly
frustrated after attends encounter
comments such as these are never
acceptable under any circumstances chief

Police Care about your Subservience

Do American police who have sworn an oath to protect and serve respect someone who knows their right and the laws as well as they do?

Here is the most shockingly accurate answer you will read all day. It doesn’t matter if you know the law better than they do, if you are right, if you will beat them in court, anytime you stand up and assert your rights, they will teach you a lesson by locking you up for standing up to them.

How dare you talk back and not lick my boots. Y’all will Respect My Authoritah!

The Authoritarian Instincts of Police Unions

They condition their members to see themselves as soldiers at war with the public they are meant to serve, and above the laws they are meant to enforce.

In may 2020, Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old with a smartphone camera, documented the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Most Americans who watched the video of Floyd begging for his life, as Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck, saw a human being. Robert Kroll did not. The head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis saw a “violent criminal” and viewed the protests that followed as a “terrorist movement.” In a letter to union members, he complained that Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd’s death had been “terminated without due process.”

Kroll’s response was typical. In the apocalyptic rhetoric of police-union leaders, every victim of police misconduct is a criminal who had it coming, and anyone who objects to such misconduct is probably also a criminal, and, by implication, a legitimate target of state violence. Due process is a privilege reserved for the righteous—that is, police officers who might lose their jobs, not the citizens who might lose their lives in a chance encounter with law enforcement.

In the Floyd case, the effectiveness of this rhetoric, so powerful in years past, was blunted by what Americans could see with their own eyes. That eight-minute-46-second video became the spark for what were reportedly the largest civil-rights protests in the history of the United States. It also led to the trial and conviction of Chauvin and the indictment of the three officers who stood by while their colleague committed murder.

But what if Frazier hadn’t had the presence of mind to record what she witnessed? Floyd might have been remembered by the public as Kroll had described him, and that could have been more than enough to spare Chauvin and the others from indictment. The headline of the police department’s statement on the day of Floyd’s murder—“Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction”—might have become the accepted version of events.

Like any other type of union, police unions view their duty as protecting the interests of their dues-paying members. Yet these unions are fundamentally different, because their members are armed agents of the state. In practice, this means police unions reflexively come to the defense of men like Chauvin, while opposing any meaningful reforms of department procedures. The most modest attempts at change—banning choke holds or even gathering data on misconduct—are met with fierce resistance.

Americans are presently engaged in a debate about how to reform police departments to prevent the unlawful killing of civilians by officers, as well as other, nonlethal abuses of power. Reining in police unions may not seem like the most urgent response to this crisis. But no reform effort can hope to succeed given their power today. As long as they exist in anything like their current form, police unions will condition their members to see themselves as soldiers at war with the public they are meant to serve, and above the laws they are meant to enforce.

The first efforts to establish police unions, around the time of World War I, were largely unsuccessful. Today’s unions took root in the 1960s and ’70s, in part because of new state laws allowing public-sector employees to collectively bargain. But this was also the moment when the most heavily policed communities in the country sought to turn America into a true multiracial democracy, and this profoundly influenced the growth of unions, and their shape today.

The civil-rights movement was a rebellion against the law. It had to be. And the police were called upon to crush it. Many of the most iconic images of the era were representations of police brutality: the Birmingham police siccing dogs on protesters, Alabama state troopers beating marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Atlanta cops manhandling Martin Luther King Jr. after arresting him at a sit-in. For police, this moment of radical social change proved to be both a threat and an opportunity.

The threat came in the form of attempts to resolve issues endemic to American policing. These weren’t the first such efforts. In the early 20th century, the widespread ineffectiveness and corruption of police departments had sparked a reform movement. In 1931, the Wickersham Commission, appointed by Herbert Hoover, issued a report on “Lawlessness in Law Enforcement,” which documented a range of abuses, including “physical brutality, illegal detention, and refusal to allow access of counsel to the prisoner.” These were particularly common when police interacted with Black people and immigrants.

That initial reform movement was more successful at professionalizing police practices and ending corruption than addressing such abuses. But in the ’60s, as the civil-rights movement brought graphic images of police brutality into the national spotlight, the Supreme Court stepped in. In a series of decisions, the Court compelled cops to inform suspects of their rights, barred the use of evidence obtained through illegal search and seizure, and gave all defendants a right to counsel. These decisions curtailed, even if they did not eliminate, many of the lawless practices described by the Wickersham Commission. Cities began looking for ways to prevent police misconduct, such as civilian review boards.

To many police officers, the reforms were simply pro-criminal. These incursions on their long-standing prerogatives spurred unionization efforts around the country. “The police unionism movement, which emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was a reaction to new efforts to bring the police under democratic control,” David Sklansky, a Stanford Law professor and the author of Democracy and the Police, told me.

If the civil-rights movement drew fresh scrutiny to police abuses, however, the backlash to the movement provided the police with new allies and new opportunities. For most white voters, riots and clashes with police in Black neighborhoods in 1967 and ’68 confirmed that liberal efforts to alleviate racial inequality had failed and that overwhelming force was the answer. “Unions discovered that they had a lot of power, that in union contract negotiations, they could play the crime card,” Samuel Walker, a historian of American policing and a professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, told me.

Book cover image: 'The Cruelty Is the Point' by Adam Serwer, from which this article is adapted.
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As they sought maximal leverage, police unions brazenly linked crime with race. In New York City in 1966, for instance, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association promoted a ballot measure that would bar civilians from serving on an oversight board. Supporters of the union ran an ad showing an anxious white woman exiting the subway alone, onto a deserted street, with the words “x … Her life … your life … may depend on it.” The group’s president at the time warned, “You won’t satisfy these people until you get all Negroes and Puerto Ricans on the board and every policeman who goes in front of it is found guilty.” The police union and its allies won in a landslide victory.

Among the unions’ most ardent champions in the tumult of the ’60s was the segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, a Democrat. “The police in this country are a beleaguered group,” Wallace said in an interview republished by The New York Times in 1967. They deserved “praise” for beating civil-rights marchers in Selma—or, as he put it, for shutting down the “unlawful assembly” there. In a speech before the convention of the Fraternal Order of Police that same year, Wallace drew a standing ovation as he called for a literal police state: “If the police of this country could run it for about two years, then it would be safe to walk in the streets.”

Wallace lost his bid for the 1968 presidential nomination, but his racist populism proved potent; both Richard Nixon’s winning “law and order” strategy and a new penchant among Democrats for declaring themselves “tough on crime” were products of his campaign. These messages resonated because crime and violence were not merely white concerns. As the Yale Law professor James Forman Jr. writes in Locking Up Our Own, Black political leaders in the ’70s and ’80s pushed for strict anti-crime measures with the strong support of their constituents. (They also sought more government aid to fight poverty and discrimination, but those approaches to crime prevention had fallen out of favor among white voters.) Americans who would never have personally identified with Wallace tacitly took a version of the trade that he’d offered: Give the police impunity, and they will give you order.

Police unions found that they had new leverage at the bargaining table. In contract negotiations with cities, they sought not merely higher pay or better benefits, but protections for officers accused of misconduct.

At this, they proved remarkably successful. Reviewing 82 active police-union contracts in major American cities, a 2017 Reuters investigation found that a majority “call for departments to erase disciplinary records, some after just six months.” Many contracts allow officers to access investigative information about complaints or charges against them before being interrogated, so they can get their stories straight. Some require the officer’s approval before making information regarding misconduct public; others set time limits on when citizens can file complaints. A 2017 Washington Post investigation found that since 2006, of the 1,881 officers fired for misconduct at the nation’s largest departments, 451 had been reinstated because of requirements in union contracts.

For many police unions, enacting and enforcing barriers to accountability became a primary concern. In 2014, in San Antonio, the local police union was willing to accept caps on pay and benefits as long as the then–city manager abandoned her efforts to, among other reforms, prevent police from erasing past misconduct records.

The damage that these types of provisions have done is hard to overstate. In one recent study, the economist Rob Gillezeau of the University of Victoria found that after departments unionized, there was a “substantial increase” in police killings of civilians. Neither crime rates nor the safety of officers themselves was affected.

The provisions do more than simply protect bad actors. They cultivate an unhealthy and secretive culture within police departments, strengthening a phenomenon known as the code of silence. In a 2000 survey of police officers by the National Institute of Justice, only 39 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “Police officers always report serious criminal violations involving abuse of authority by fellow officers.”

In the same survey, more than eight out of 10 “reported that they do not accept the ‘code of silence’ ” as an “essential part of the mutual trust necessary to good policing.” Yet even officers who might not believe in the code adhere to it. From their perspective, they have little reason to speak up, and plenty of incentive to ignore their conscience while on the job. Those who do speak up can become pariahs, while the misconduct they report goes unpunished.

Michael Quinn, a retired Minneapolis police officer and the author of Walking With the Devil, told me, “The whole problem with the code of silence is not so much that cops don’t want to report misconduct, but that there’s no accountability for the officers that are involved in misconduct. And if a department’s not gonna hold them accountable, why should they step up?”

This is not a system ruined by a few bad apples. This is a system that creates and protects bad apples by design. Most people who become police officers enter the profession because it is held in high esteem and because they wish to provide a public service. But individual good intentions cannot overcome a system intended to render them meaningless. Being a good cop can get you in trouble with your superiors, your fellow officers, and the union that represents you. Being a bad one can get you elected as a union rep.

In 2014, amid protests over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, The Washington Post published an op-ed by a former police officer. The headline stated plainly, “I’m a Cop. If You Don’t Want to Get Hurt, Don’t Challenge Me.” The author went on to enumerate the perfectly legal behaviors that he viewed as a “challenge”: “Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge.”

Such a mindset poses a mortal risk to people encountering the police, but it also poses a risk to democracy itself. In democratic societies, the use of state-sanctioned violence is meant to be constrained by the rule of law. Instead, led by their unions, the police in America have become a constituency with a strong interest in the ability to dispense violence with impunity. Such a constituency will have a natural affinity for authoritarianism. And having leveraged a racist backlash to establish their grip on power, such unions will inevitably attract the support of those who see the preservation of racial hierarchy as paramount.

President Donald Trump allied himself with police unions; the unions, in turn, proved to be among his staunchest supporters, campaigning on his behalf all over the country. The fact that last year’s Democratic ticket was composed of the author of the 1994 crime bill and a former prosecutor did nothing to temper the hyperbole of police-union officials and their allies, one of whom attacked Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the “most radical anti-police ticket in history.”

In Trump’s apocalyptic warnings about the consequences of liberal political ascendancy, one can hear the echoes of police-union officials arguing that the police are the thin blue barrier between civilization and collapse. “Americans know the truth,” Trump said during the 2020 campaign. “Without police, there is chaos. Without law, there is anarchy. And without safety, there is catastrophe.”

In the shared ideology of police unions and the Trumpist right, that safety is available only to those who refuse to criticize the police. As Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr told an audience of police officers and prosecutors in 2019, communities that protest maltreatment by police “might find themselves without the police protection they need.” This is a mockery of free speech and a perversion of democracy.

If there were any doubt about the police unions’ allegiances, it was made plain after January 6, when a white-supremacist mob attacked the Capitol in the president’s name. These ostensible supporters of “Blue Lives Matter” beat and berated any law-enforcement officers who stood in their way. One officer, a Black Iraq War veteran named Eugene Goodman, led a crowd away from the Senate chamber and in doing so may have prevented lawmakers from being lynched. More than 100 of his fellow officers were reportedly injured in the melee.

Afterward, the National Fraternal Order of Police quietly released a letter condemning the mob and expressing sympathy for the dead and injured officers. But there was no parade of police-union officials on cable television labeling the MAGA mob “terrorists” or “animals.” There were no announcements that off-duty cops would refuse to work security at political events supportive of the mob or the lie about a stolen election that motivated it. That kind of rhetoric is reserved for those who protest the killing of Black people by the police, not an assault on cops in the name of white rule. The head of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, John Catanzara, told a local news station how much he sympathized with an armed mob that attempted to overturn the results of a presidential election. “It was a bunch of pissed-off people that feel an election was stolen, somehow, some way,” Catanzara said. Forced to decide between defending democracy and maintaining the political alliances that protect their impunity, the unions made the obvious choice.

Police unions are unlike any other form of organized labor. A teacher who pulls out a gun and shoots a student cannot avoid prosecution if the school fails to investigate the incident within five days. A librarian with a tendency to throw large books at visitors who refuse to heed demands for silence will not be reinstated because an arbitrator determined that management failed to properly follow procedure in firing her. And while these professions provide essential services, withholding their labor cannot constitute a threat of violence.

The question is why there should be police unions at all. Because the defining work of police is violence, any police union is bound to eventually want to negotiate leniency for the misuse of violence by its members, and to advocate for policies that guarantee that leniency. Such a guarantee is rooted, in part, in the racial disparities of police misconduct, which also insulate police from backlash. The preservation of such disparities is thus a political interest for police unions.

Some liberals acknowledge that these unions are an obstacle to reform but argue that workers—including police—have a fundamental right to organize for better wages and benefits. Indeed, former officers I spoke with argued that unions helped secure financial stability or protected them from capricious decisions by management.

Yet the military—hardly exempt from questions about fair pay or capricious leadership—lacks a union. This is a matter of tradition, not law, but it reflects an understanding that such an organized political entity would be dangerous, placing the military beyond democratic accountability and civilian control. Instead, the military relies on public support, which means its members must maintain an outward stance of political neutrality—even when a sitting president expects them to interfere on his behalf.

There are some 18,000 police departments across the United States, and the laws governing relations between the departments and unions vary by jurisdiction. Curtailing union power will thus be a local fight. Some cities and states might opt to disband police unions altogether. Others might take disciplinary procedures off the negotiating table, leaving the unions to advocate for overtime pay and pension plans, not freedom from accountability. This spring, in San Antonio, activists succeeded in putting the collective-bargaining rights of the city’s police union on the ballot. The referendum was narrowly defeated at the polls, but both the activists and the union see the confrontation as the first skirmish in a longer fight.

If police unions are eventually deprived of the powers they’ve wielded for the past half century, current and former officers could still, as individual citizens and as part of police organizations, speak out in favor of their politics. But they would lack the leverage to negotiate getting away with murder as a condition of employment, or to withdraw the state’s cloak of protection to citizens who protest their conduct. The existence of powerful organizations that advocate for armed agents of the state at the expense of the public they serve is not simply an obstacle to reform. It is dangerous.

This article is adapted from Adam Serwer’s new book, The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump’s America. It appears in the July/August 2021 print edition with the headline “Bust the Police Unions.”