We need to begin speaking about your job’s obligations, duties, and responsibilities separately from your employment rights
When I began working at CLEAT in 1994 there was no Meet and Confer rights. Prior to 1973, there were no Collective Bargaining rights, no Civil Service rights prior to 1945.
When we speak of rights we generally associate it with a positive. The Bill of Rights. The right to an attorney. The right to appeal an unjust, unfair decision. Those are rights.
Last legislative session I stood in the hallway awaiting my turn to visit with a legislator outside a hearing room. I was unable to disregard or not overhear a well-known big city police union representative telling a Capitol Staffer about his rights as a police officer to question anyone he chose, arrest anyone he chose, and his subsequent RIGHT to use deadly force any time he felt the circumstances warranted such action. All this was being said to a very well educated attorney who worked for another well-educated attorney who had been in elected office for years.
Over the years the law enforcement officer’s glossary of terms has morphed into the politically self-injurious. Union leaders using confusing or lazily interchangeable words during times of social and political upheaval serve to exacerbate the misunderstanding of your role as a highly trained professional working a tough shift. Your job is dependent on taxpayers and political goodwill in order to make it to your earned retirement.
A few years ago I stopped using the term ‘pension’ except in the definition of a legal financial instrument. Why? Because I began to pick up on clues from the far right-wing attempting to connect the word pension to being a government entitlement. Similar to the ancient term, the old aged pension. Subsequently, I began to go against my CLEAT law enforcement language training and force myself to say “earned retirement.” And when under fire in the Capitol I would also use the term ‘deferred compensation’ to reference the economic incentive YOU were promised when you were recruited.
My purpose in the language change was for clarification. Your retirement isn’t an entitlement, it’s an earned portion of your compensation. I’ve also made sure the hard-liners filing legislation to stop your union dues checkoff know for a fact that when an international criminal operative files a complaint against you that your union dues deduction gets you the same legal representation that the criminal will get.
Now more than ever officers and their union leaders need to hone their political language skills to say what they mean. And say it in reasonable adult voices. No individual or right-thinking person would ever want or need the right to act in a negative or punitive manner toward a fellow human being or fellow citizen. The State of Texas temporarily endows you with the incredibly difficult duty to protect the public. Your further obligation under those auspices FORCE you to fulfill your responsibility to the people’s constitution and criminal statute’s to carry out those tasks with the utmost care. It’s not a right, it’s a burden.
No officer ever seeks the right to end a life. Not ever. That decision comes from your role acting as an agent of the state. It’s a governmental decision that requires those placed in its path to hold the highest training. Those actions require you to answer to that same government regarding every single decision and element of that required action. The duty to protect is the awesome responsibility that presents itself as the double-edged sword on every single shift. You have no actionable law enforcement authority outside the state and the agency that swore you into that role. The power isn’t for you to use but instead for you to use on behalf of the government and its citizens.
A change in language may be necessary in order to make sure those who see the world differently from us can discern for themselves where they need to apply their angst and pressure. Why? Because Mayors, City Managers, City politicians are hiding behind you. Every single issue in your life is decided by politics. Recruiting, hiring, training, your General Order, your legal authority, criminal laws, fines, bail, incarceration…all decided by politicians. But you are being blamed as the manifestation of all governmental power when in reality you are a worker who doesn’t get paid unless you work your shift.
When we change our terminology and unmask those who are really in charge then perhaps the term “officer rights” can once again find its rightful place in the discussions about employment, working conditions, fairness in the workplace, and a better income for all officers while they are employed and a fair retirement when the last shift is completed. Words can be weaponized. We sure don’t want to have our own words taken from us and used against us in the halls of government.
Especially during times like these.
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