“F– the POA” Is a Slogan With Power

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

After Chesa Boudin’s surprise victory in the San Francisco district attorney’s race, a prominent supporter of Boudin, Supervisor Sandra Brewer, shouted “F— the POA!” at an election party.

The chant was directed at San Francisco’s Police Officers Association, the powerful police union, which spent big money against Boudin.  The chant occasioned criticism—about being a sore winner post-election, and about supposedly being anti-police. The POA itself demanded an apology.

Fortunately, there hasn’t been one. I think that the chant, despite the bad word, hit the mark—and that we will hear it again, across California.

And that’s not just because other POAs across the state spent money to defeat Boudin, who is in the vanguard of a progressive movement to make law enforcement less punitive, especially on poor people. It’s because police unions have held too much power, and defended too much public policy that is hurting California.

POAs are at the heart of the state’s pension crisis, because the biggest and most unsustainable pension benefits are those going to cops. I could imagine quite a few conservatives shouting expletives at the POA on that subject, particularly if the next recession sees cuts to everything except pensions and retirement benefits.

As a journalist, I’ve often sworn under my breath at the power of police unions to block basic transparency about police reports and police actions. This is a difficult state in which to obtain police records, and for years, police unions kept the public from finding out which officers were involved in police-involved shootings. There’s been recent reform—but not enough transparency, in large part because of the power of the police unions.

POAs often have way too much power at the local level, in ways that distort local spending and politics. If you want more local democracy, POAs will have to be put in their place.

Such attacks on POAs need to distinguish between police, whose essential work should be supported, and public employees union who work against the public interest. 

If POAs won’t work to address our systemic problems, well, screw ‘em.

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