Carli Pierson: Weakening Police Unions Can Strengthen Public Safety

In a recent USA Today op-ed, attorney Carli Pierson examines how loosening the grip of police unions can open the doors to police accountability, leading to better public safety. She also looks at Colorado as a model of successful police reform.

“Having a problem officer on the force…is not uncommon,” Pierson states. “However, police departments too often have failed to stop dangerous officers before they kill someone.” Oftentimes, the fault lies with police unions, “which can make it hard to boot bad cops off the force,” contributing to an unjust system “that often overlooks police misconduct [and] doesn’t act as a deterrent.” 

However, some states have addressed this pressing concern. Among them is Colorado, which swiftly eliminated qualified immunity in response to George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Law professor Deborah Ramirez, who spoke with Carli Pierson, notes that the Centennial State’s rule “makes police liable for bad behavior” by making rogue officers “pay out of pocket when sued.” 

Furthermore, this legislation “may alleviate union controls” because “paying out of pocket will likely force officers to buy insurance.” Higher premiums, Professor Ramirez predicts, will expel bad cops from the job, which will ultimately strengthen public safety.

Professor Ramirez illustrates this using Derek Chauvin as an example. She argues that if Chauvin were insured, he could’ve been stopped long before he killed George Floyd. The disgraced ex-cop had a record of using excessive force dating back to 2007. Yet he was barely disciplined for his misconduct. If he had had liability insurance, however, his premiums would’ve increased with each official complaint. Eventually, Chauvin “would have been priced off the force.” 

By getting rid of qualified immunity, Colorado is preventing such tragedies from taking place within the state. Bad cops found guilty of violating someone’s rights are now liable “for the lesser of $25,000 or 5% of the settlement,” Carli Pierson explains. Best of all, “misconduct charges that have been filed against officers since the bill [ending qualified immunity] passed shows it’s working,” says state rep. Leslie Herod, who sponsored the historic bill. 

“Without a doubt,” the op-ed concludes, “[Colorado] has taken steps toward increased accountability.” 

Read the entire Carli Pierson entire op-ed here.