Opinion

The Two Big Reasons the Police Union Wants Larry Krasner to Lose

A victory for the Democratic DA candidate could mean a sizable reduction in overtime pay for cops and a tougher stance on police abuse.

Philadelphia will elect its next district attorney on Tuesday, and John McNesby seems extremely nervous.

McNesby is the president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of the Police, Philadelphia’s largest police union. (His most recent claim to fame? Being criticized widely for calling a group of Black Lives Matter protesters “a pack of rabid animals.”) McNesby and the FOP endorsed Republican Beth Grossman. However, it seems that what really matters for McNesby is that Grossman’s Democratic opponent, Larry Krasner, lose.

In a letter posted on Facebook on October 25th, McNesby urges FOP members to vote for Grossman. McNesby writes, “the citizens of Philadelphia are in serious danger if the District Attorney’s office is allowed to deteriorate into an arrogant, hostile, second-guessing presecutor [sic] of police.”

Before Krasner announced his candidacy but rumor had it that he would run, McNesby described the idea as “hilarious.” Immediately after Krasner’s victory in the primary, McNesby went on the attack: “He’s anti-law enforcement. He sent that message for years.” Krasner responded reminding the FOP leadership that they are “not the commissioner, they are not the brass, they’re not the rank-and-file, they’re not in the chain of command.”

The evidence is clear that apart from sounding tough, tough-on-crime policies do not increase safety. Stop-and-frisk did not decrease crime in New York City. Cash-bail practices compromised public safety in California. Mandatory minimum sentencing is ineffective in addressing drug-related crime. Experts agree that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime. And that’s just to name a few policies.

Why is McNesby so afraid to see Krasner as Philly’s head prosectuor? Because he will lose the ability to protect “bad apples” and their overtime pay.

According to Open Data Philly, in 2016 some police officers and detectives earned $100,000 in overtime, more than doubling their salary. The way most police officers make overtime is by appearing in court. If the DA’s office brings charges after an arrest, the cop will most likely be called to testify. In Philadelphia, every time officers appear in court off-shift, they receive a minimum of two hours of overtime pay. This is a clear financial incentive for cops to arrest as many people as possible, and might explain why in 2016 one in four pedestrian stops made by Philadelphia police was deemed unconstitutional.

Krasner’s campaign platform pledges that he will “end this practice [stop-and-frisk] by refusing to bring to trial cases stemming from illegal frisks and searches.” McNesby’s main concern as a union representative is the compensation of FOP members. Unfortunately, those members work in a system that rewards civil rights violations. Cops who abuse civil rights to increase their salary will be hurt if Krasner is the next DA.

The FOP is also notorious for its inability to admit its members’ wrongdoing. The latest example is Ryan Pownall, the police officer who shot and killed 30-year-old black North Philadelphian David Jones. The incident was caught by a security camera, and Jones is clearly seen fleeing at the moment that he is shot. Following a protest demanding justice for Jones, the FOP hosted a “Back the Blue” rally, where McNesby’s infamous “rabid animals” quote was born. A week after the rally, police commissioner Richard Ross announced that Pownall would be fired. The FOP responded by hosting a party and fundraiser for Pownall.

Krasner has a history of bringing lawsuits against police officers’ abuse and corruption, and as DA he promises to bring that relentlessness to the office.

There is good reason to believe that many police officers support this approach. First, just look at the Jones shooting case. While the head of the police union protected Jones’s shooter at all costs, the actual police commissioner deemed the officer to be unfit for the job. Second, there is evidence that police misconduct makes community members, especially in communities of color, less likely to call the police. Unreported crime is a public safety threat. Holding corrupt and abusive police officers accountable brings communities and police together, which makes the jobs of honest officers much easier and all of Philadelphia safer.

The evidence suggests that Krasner’s agenda will keep Philadelphia safe while not hurting the compensation of honest officers. McNesby might be talking about public safety, but all he is really pushing for is the job safety of his union members, regardless of their actions.

Abraham Gutman is an Israeli economist and independent writer based in Philadelphia. His writing focuses on criminal justice and housing issues in the U.S. He works for the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University, where he investigates the role of law in housing equity. All opinions are his own.