Author’s Note: We wrote this piece before the Chauvin trial verdict was announced, but we wanted to emphasize: what happened Tuesday was not, in any sense of the term, “justice.” The system cannot and will not indict itself, and anti-Black violence is inherent to its design. What it will do in exceptionally rare circumstances is sacrifice one “bad apple” in order to maintain the legitimacy of the rotten and corrupt tree that is policing. As the verdict was literally being delivered, police murdered Ma’Khia Bryant — a 16-year-old girl in Columbus, Ohio — after she called them for help. Police cannot and will not keep us safe; we need abolition now.
This extends to Stanford University. On Tuesday, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne told the Black community that their voices matter. We recall demands from Black student organizations as recently as last year to dismiss, disarm and divert funding from the Stanford University Department of Public Safety. Stanford has ignored this and done the literal opposite, through its new $34 million Public Safety building, continued hiring of deputy sheriffs, ongoing talks to renegotiate the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association labor agreement and more. MTL’s words are hollow, and nothing short of the complete dismantling of SUDPS will be enough.
Across the country, labor unions face political barriers, corporate opposition, and downright abuse when organizing and advocating for workers’ rights. But there’s one exception: police unions. Police unions secure their power through union contracts that absolve officers of all accountability. Stanford University’s contract with the Stanford Deputy Sheriffs’ Association (SDSA), which represents officers who work for the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS), is no different. By protecting officers with impunity, the contract directly endangers all other workers at Stanford. It is set to be renewed for a five-year period this year, with a May 2 deadline to modify or terminate it.
Abolish Stanford demands an immediate halt to contract negotiations, a start to meaningful engagement with community demands and termination of the contract. We encourage Stanford community members to take action and call on the University to terminate the contract before May 2. Call and email contract negotiators and University administration with your thoughts on the SDSA contract, and join the larger fight for abolition by taking part in Cops Off Campus’s Day of Refusal on May 3.
Here’s why this is so important.
Problems with police unions and the SDSA contract
Police unions — often called “associations,” “orders” or “lodges” — enjoy a place of privilege with local and state governments to such an extent that their rights have been carved out for protection when the right to organize and bargain collectively is under attack. Police union contracts grant unusual protections that go well beyond the scope of collective bargaining in any other sector.
According to multiple analyses, police contracts frequently erase misconduct from officers’ records, give officers unfair access to information before interrogations and disqualify complaints if investigations take longer than a set period of time, usually 180 days or fewer. Equally alarming is what these contracts often fail to include: processes for civilian oversight and set procedures in cases where deadly force is used, to name a few. Whereas unions in other industries fight for fair wages, benefits, safe working conditions and recourse for harassment and discrimination, police unions secure protections against misconduct investigations and public oversight, allowing them to act with impunity.
The SDSA contract is like many police contracts around the country: It ensures police are exempt from scrutiny and consequences, while funding an apparatus that leaves civilians terrorized and brutalized in the name of “public safety.” Officers receive paid leave during disciplinary investigations (sections 9.5 and 9.7B) and can seek outside arbitrators to reverse disciplinary or termination decisions (12.1C). Investigations into misconduct are curtailed in multiple ways: Advance warning is given for locker searches (21.3), officers must be informed ahead of time of the topics to be covered in an interrogation (9.7A) and investigation timelines are determined by the officer being investigated and the SDSA (9.7B). Misconduct records, including arrests, are expunged after three years (9.3C and D), a mechanism that is common in police union contracts and notably kept the man who murdered George Floyd on the force in Minneapolis despite repeated incidents of misconduct and violence. At Stanford, this mechanism allowed Captain Sgt. Chris Cohendet to stay at SUDPS after being arrested for a DUI in 2010.
However, the SDSA contract goes further. Stanford cannot discipline or terminate SUDPS deputies without approval from SUDPS (sections 9.1, 9.6, and 9.8). These clauses reinforce the strange agreement governing policing at Stanford: Police are deputized by elected officials, paid by a private entity, but responsible to themselves. This type of public-private policing was unheard of in California until Stanford invented it to target and eliminate growing campus protests around racial justice and against the Vietnam War.
Police associations and the labor movement
Police associations are a cruel irony to the labor movement. Police are routinely deployed against union organizers and strikes, despite their own unions benefiting from the labor rights secured by those they brutalize. In an interview on the contradictory role of cops in the labor movement, union organizer Halimat Alawode describes the membership of police union locals in the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO): “When we were fighting for collective bargaining for ourselves, [police] were clubbing us. And now they’ve given themselves the ability to club us with impunity, using the same collective bargaining tools.”
Throughout history, police have beaten and murdered workers in struggles remembered by appropriately somber names like Bloody Thursday, when plainclothes officers fired into a crowd of picketers in San Francisco and killed two in 1934; the Memorial Day Massacre, when the Chicago Police Department murdered ten striking steel workers in 1937 and the Battle of Blair Mountain, one hundred years ago this summer, when nearly 100 striking coal miners were murdered by law enforcement in West Virginia. Unfortunately, police violence against organized labor is not a thing of the past — Memphis police were recently caught surveilling a union organizer’s home. Last summer, when Black working class people led the largest protest in the country’s history, police responded with tear gas, tanks and bullets rubber and lead.
Labor organizers know that this contradiction between workers’ rights and police union interests cannot be sustained. Movements are building within many international unions, including Drop the Cops at Service Employees International Union, Cop-free AFSCME at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, as well as No Cop Union at the AFL-CIO, to push police association affiliates out of unions. There is no place for cops in the labor movement, or in our workplace.
SUDPS poses a threat to other Stanford workers
Cops on Stanford’s campus directly harm workers. Graduate student workers who live on campus have been threatened with eviction by cops ostensibly enforcing COVID-19 mandates. In an open meeting with the Community Board on Public Safety, a participant shared a story of a graduate student worker who commutes to campus: They drove to each parking lot near the COVID-19 testing center to find officers patrolling and issuing tickets in all of them, and thus were forced to choose between compliance with the mandatory testing program and a ticket costing over $40. Noncompliance endangers a graduate worker’s job, while a ticket costs them at least an hour of wages (and realistically far more, given the realities of graduate-student work), lost wages that go directly back to their employer, Stanford.
Many graduate workers who work late hours on campus, especially Black workers, have been followed by officers, and officers routinely demand that Black workers, including faculty, prove they work at Stanford. The presence of police on campus constitutes an unsafe and hostile work environment.
The SDSA contract severely limits the University’s ability to investigate, discipline or fire officers in the case of misconduct. In the terms of the contract, deputies under investigation for misconduct retain their job and receive pay continuance throughout the (highly curtailed) investigation. Workers at Stanford bear the consequences of this contract every day when they are surveilled, harassed and threatened by police. It is ludicrous to call the police at Stanford a department of “public safety” because they are not accountable to the public, and they do not keep us safe.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the racist institution of policing, the University responded to student protests by delaying long term negotiations on the police union contract and instead renewing it for one year (the city of San Jose did the same). This mere delay did nothing to make Stanford a safe place to work and live — all of the above stories from graduate student workers occurred since the contract was renewed in July. The demands of Black students at Stanford are still unmet. Stanford’s response — namely its Community Board on Public Safety, which is charged with “fostering trust [and] relationships” with SUDPS — was designed to re-legitimize SUDPS, not fundamentally change it. We demand that the SDSA contract be terminated.
Action against the SDSA contract
The Cops off Campus Coalition’s May 3 Day of Refusal is a chance to exercise power where it truly lies: with the people. By withdrawing our labor as students and workers, we re-center the conversation around abolition, rather than reformist reforms. We remind people that policing is racist to its core and serves to protect private property and the interests of the ruling class. And we re-emphasize the importance of abolition — not further policing — as the only way to keep our community safe.
We strongly encourage Stanford community members to take action and tell Stanford to terminate the contract before May 2. Protest the presence of cops on campus by refusing to provide labor to the University on May 3 as part of the national Cops Off Campus’s Day of Refusal.
— Abolish Stanford
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