The New York Times explores the radical history of police unions

In March 2021, the New York Times posted an in-depth look at the life of Ron DeLord, a former Texas police officer who became a labor organizer and helped to spearhead the growth and influence of police unions across the country. It explains how and why he found a way for local police to start taking power — largely by learning the lessons of activists who were more often associated with Leftist movements, like Saul Alinsky and Frederick Douglass. And it also explores how DeLord is beginning to recognize that he may have made a monster, and how, in the wake of so much police brutality, the union model he established may have too much power after all.

Ron DeLord, a fiery former Texas cop turned labor organizer, has long taught union leaders how to gain power and not let go. He has likened a police union going after an elected official to a cheetah devouring a wildebeest, and suggested that taking down just one would make others fall in line.

He helped write the playbook that police unions nationwide — seeking better pay, perks and protections from discipline — have followed for decades. Build a war chest. Support your friends. Smear your enemies. Even scare citizens with the threat of crime. One radio spot in El Paso warned residents to support their local police or face "the alternative," as the sound of gunshots rang out.

"We took weak, underpaid organizations and built them into what everyone today says are powerful police unions," Mr. DeLord said in a recent interview. "You may say we went too far. I say you don't know how far you've gone until you're at the edge of the envelope."

That moment may be now.

This isn't to say that DeLord regrets what he did, or that he believes there are any inherent or systemic problems with policing as it currently exists. But at least, he recognizes that police unions may need to loosen their iron grip, just a little.

Police Unions Won Power Using His Playbook. Now He's Negotiating the Backlash. [Michael H. Keller and Kim Barker / The New York Times]

Image: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza (Public Domain)