Last month the National Police Association (NPA) filed an ethics complaint against Rachael Rollins, the new district attorney for Suffolk County, Massachusetts (who recently outlined her progressive policies to Filter).
“National police group knocks incoming DA,” stated the headline of a December 28 Boston Herald report. It described how the NPA accused Rollins of a “reckless disregard” for Massachusetts laws because of her “platform of generally declining to prosecute shoplifting, drug dealing, trespassing, resisting arrest and making threats.” These policies, the NPA claims, will create a “clear and immediate danger.” The NPA’s chief financial officer and president were quoted expressing their desire to exert pressure on Rollins to “change her mind” to prevent “risk and danger to law-abiding citizens.”
“The National Police Association Is Throwing a Fit Over Prosecutorial Discretion,” commented Slate on January 4, citing as “just one example of the complaint’s ridiculousness” Rollins’ alleged violation—simply by stating her policies while standing as a DA candidate—of a rule against prosecutors making comments that might prejudice a particular case.
DA Rollins tweeted a response to the complaint:
My statement regarding the National Police Association's complaint: https://t.co/ZBR6e57Dtm— DA Rachael Rollins (@DA Rachael Rollins) 1546034861.0
There is much to unpack in what appears to be a bogus complaint created to garner press and monetary donations. Its filing is not just odd, as noted by University of North Carolina Law Professor Carissa Hessick, but disingenuous, because it has no hope of success.
But beyond the complaint itself, media acceptance of the NPA as an actual law enforcement organization made up of police professionals deserves scrutiny.
I had never heard of the NPA in my 21 years working in law enforcement—nor in my last eight years as a speaker, board member and now chair of a law enforcement non-profit.* The NPA is not a traditional police labor union association like the Fraternal Order of Police, nor a professional organization, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Yet its name implies that it represents police professionals across the United States.
Looking Behind the Name
I therefore wondered who was behind the NPA. I wasn’t the only police professional to feel suspicious, as shown by this tweet from a former Boston police lieutenant and author:
I've been in the criminal justice profession since the 1970s and have never heard of the "National Police Associati… https://t.co/eSZMaSsVzI— Dr. Tom Nolan (@Dr. Tom Nolan) 1546036828.0
I looked into the NPA’s corporate filings through the IRS website and also checked out the NPA’s website and online presence. It turns out that the NPA is a small non-profit that is less than two years old. It was incorporated first in the State of Delaware in early 2017, and then registered as a foreign corporation in Indiana. Its address in Indianapolis is simply a US Postal Service PO box.
According to the NPA’s 2017 federal tax filing, there are only three board members: President Ed Hutchinson, Secretary Brad Shaw and Treasurer Arnold Musungu.
A search of social media platforms shows that an Ed Hutchinson was previously a civilian staffer of the National Sheriffs Association. He is the only board member who has any apparent connection with policing that shows up online. I could find no evidence that Shaw or Musungu are current, former or retired law enforcement professionals or civilian staffers. The NPA did not respond to Filter’srequest for information about the backgrounds of its board members or staffers.
While this doesn’t prove the lack of any law enforcement connection, it does seem strange. You would expect any kind of police or public safety organization to highlight the involvement of current or former officers on its website, and the vast majority do so.
In 2017, its first year of operations, the NPA incurred a net financial loss of over $114,000. No doubt the NPA receives donations or is self-funding this loss in some way, hoping to expand its base and win future financial support—likely through its involvement in high-profile complaints, like the one against Rollins.
In its short history the NPA has filed other complaints against political figures. The organization signed to or filed amicus briefssupporting Darren Wilson vs. the City of Ferguson and the Department of Justice complaint targeting California’s sanctuary state law. It also tried to lead a Change.org campaign against Nike and Colin Kaepernick.
The NPA’s Disturbing Ideology
The NPA’s website and social media accounts suggest that it is positioning itself as the latest iteration of the police identity movement. Its rhetoric mirrors some of the most radical police union leaders, with inflammatory language increasing divisions between law enforcement and communities of color.
Here is one sample among many:
NPA Launches National Effort to Show Appreciation to Local Law Enforcement
It’s been a tough couple years for local law enforcement. Groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter have inspired people to assassinate cops on the street. Soft on Crime groups are targeting record numbers of individual law enforcement officers in law suits for police brutality. And cops are facing increasing disrespect on the streets as criminals have become emboldened by the wave of anti-cop rhetoric in the news media and by many politicians.
On its donate page, the NPA boasts of its work to “preserve the American way of life” and “fight back against cop-haters.”
In fact, as I’ve previously written, supporting law enforcement and supporting reform movements such as Black Lives Matter are not mutually exclusive. Promoting divisive rhetoric is detrimental to the public safety mission that requires any genuine law enforcement organization to be accountable to its constituents.
Other policies that the NPA promotes include aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics and “broken windows” policing—strategies that have resulted in unconstitutional practices that undermine civil liberties.
The NPA’s immigration proposal—”Authorizing local law enforcement officers to perform federal immigration law enforcement functions”—is based on fear-mongering and a clear recipe for abuse and division. This policy has been repudiated by a significant number of law enforcement leaders, whose experience has led them to conclude that it would make their communities unsafe.
The NPA’s list of collaborators is also illuminating. It includes the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation of Sacramento, California, which provided representation and incidental expenses for the NPA’s amicus curiae in support of Darren Wilson against Ferguson. The amicus curiae brief in support of the DOJ against California was filed by the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which reporters have noted is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. FAIR is a public-interest law advocacy organization with an ugly history: Its founder, Dr. John Tanton, has been described as a nativist and a white nationalist by the Southern Poverty Law Center. According to the Washington Post, Tanton “built on eugenicist thinking with aims to limit the birthrate of people deemed undesirable. His innovation was to focus on stabilizing the American population by severely limiting immigration.”
Other signatories on the briefs included the National Sheriffs Association, Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime and Stop Sanctuary State—an organization funded by another non-profit, named Californians for Population Stabilization. CAPS links population control and environmental concerns, and sees limiting immigration as a way to preserve American resources for future generations. It has also previously been linked to the white nationalist movement.
Surveys as Propaganda
NPA has also produced two “public opinion surveys,” one on illegal immigration and another on crime.
In September 2018 the Eugene Weekly reported on the survey about illegal immigration and sanctuary states. It was sent out to 40 states, including Oregon, and according to the report depicted “illegal immigrants” as “career criminals.”
Comparable distortions are evident in the NPA survey about crime, which was publicized in a press release claiming “strong support for proactive policing that reduce the number of people committing crimes.” The NPA did not respond to Filter’s questions about the methodology of the survey, which claimed, for example, 90 percent public support for law enforcement action to “prevent crime by stopping suspicious people for questioning.”
The survey questions are leading, and skewed to produce support for the NPA’s views. To take one example, this question intentionally mischaracterizes the varied reasons for the decline in crime:
Before receiving the letter accompanying this Survey were you aware that police and law enforcement have been responsible for reducing crime in the US by over 50% in the past 20 years?
And the question below, on the use of police force, completely ignores work from many researchers, including recently by New Jersey Advanced Media, that has found glaring racial disparities in the use of force. If you are black in New Jersey you are three times more likely to face police force than if you are white.
Today many law enforcement officers are reluctant to wrestle a criminal suspect to the ground, use a nightstick, or use any type of force when apprehending a criminal because they fear getting sued or brought up on charges of “police brutality.”
Do you support the right of a law enforcement officer to use force to stop a crime in progress, to apprehend a criminal, or to defend themselves from criminal attack?
As a police professional, I believe that there are instances where force is justified. But a survey that deliberately misleads the public—about police force and attitudes, and the racial disparities in the application of force—creates even more division in our society.
But perhaps that’s the point of the survey and the NPA. I concur with the Eugene Weekly’s assessment that the NPA fundraising letter and survey are a push to sway voters. But the manipulative, fear-mongering language used—”During your lifetime you have a 52% chance of being violently attacked by a criminal at least once … Were you aware your chances of being violently attacked by a criminal were this high?”—seems to me even more like political posturing designed simply to generate publicity and donations. Ed Hutchinson admitted to the Eugene Weekly that the immigration survey was designed as a fundraiser, and no doubt it was the same with the crime survey.
A Threat to Be Taken Seriously
The NPA Facebook page claims that donating will “make law enforcement fairer, safer and more effective.” But there is no evidence the policy proposals supported by the NPA will result in this—quite the opposite.
Criminal justice professionals and reformers may scoff at the amateurism and extreme rhetoric. But the NPA’s recent portrayal, by legitimate news sources, as a legitimate organization shows that it has found a niche preying on people’s fears of crime and those different to themselves. From that base, it’s easy to imagine it growing.
The NPA clearly exists not to promote public safety, but as a political organization to push back against criminal justice reforms. As Fordham Law Professor John Pfaff noted in response to the NPA’s Rollins complaint, “this is a political move, not a legal one. The NPA is laying the groundwork for reaction.”
Reformers like Rollins are, as journalist Radley Balko wrote, “a threat to the punitive, retributive criminal justice model that has dominated the United States since the 1980s.”
The movement of which the NPA is part will not give up without a fight. Redefining and reforming the criminal justice system demands that we promote safer communities through investment in programming outside of law enforcement. But we can’t do this without addressing Americans’ fear of crime, which—independentfrom the reality of crime risks—is continually fanned by tough-on-crime ideologues.
To push back against this, reformers and media should not take organizations’ self-descriptions at face value. Far from being any kind of “national police association,” the NPA is just another arm of the self-benefiting criminal justice lobby that perpetuates fear through deliberate mischaracterizations of crime.
*LEAP is the fiscal sponsor of The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter.