Without commenting on the substance of any particular policy proposal, it can be noted that, in the state of Rhode Island, the number of sworn officers on a police force is frequently determined by the police union contract. This seems to be the case in Providence, according to a Projo article by Mark Reynolds…
The tentative agreement with the Providence lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police also includes some new language on staffing levels. The language basically requires the city to maintain a staffing level of at least 435 positions. If staffing falls below that level, the city would compensate officers with additional sick days.
So whatever “defund the police” means in a Rhode Island context, will it mean that the local police union has to directly approve any major policy and budgeting shifts covered by their contract, or will the powers-that-be in Rhode Island come around to challenging the idea that major public policy changes can be vetoed by an organization not democratically selected by the people?
And if it is the latter, will there be an explanation of why police unions are different from other public-sector unions?
It has been argued in this space that allowing union contracts to be a major constraint on state and municipal government decision-making creates a democratic accountability problem, but many Rhode Island leaders were content to ignore this, when they could pretend the issues were mostly fiscal and could be reduced to choices between cuts to existing programs and tax-increases. Well, the issues around policing that government must address right now are much bigger than fiscal ones, and the problems of dealing with them with less-than-democratic governing structures can no longer be ignored.