In the wake of the much-celebrated victory of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, the question arose “what about the POA?”
Most people, unfortunately, don’t even know what “the POA” is. POA stands for Police Officers Association. Every American city, county and state has one, whether it be city police, county sheriff or state correctional officers.
It’s a union. Technically, as a union, it is formed to advocate for better working conditions and pay for its members. In the real world, however, POAs have taken a more sinister role to control the politicians elected to govern our cities, counties and states. POAs are really political action committees that spend millions of dollars every year to influence elections.
“The National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) is a coalition of police unions and associations from across the United States organized for the purpose of advancing the interests of America’s law enforcement officers through legislative advocacy, political action and education.” NAPO supports its member organizations across the country.
Holding the Line Against Reform
Predictably, these police associations lead the resistance to criminal justice reform, bail reform, decriminalizing marijuana and anything else. So, when the SF POA spent $700,000 in a local election, no one should be surprised. Phil Matier reports that “much of the $700,000 spent by the San Francisco Police Officers Association against progressive district attorney candidate Chesa Boudin came from out of town, even out of state.”
Elections are when the POAs take off the gloves and step out from the cover of secrecy. They have no problem being in the light to attack a politician they don’t like. What we have to remember, however, is that after the election, they are still there. Some slink back into the darkness to watch and wait for the next attack. They sometimes politely (and quietly) threaten elected officials with whom they disagree. And even without the express threat, most politicians are wary of offending the POA.
SF POA is different – they’re special. They stay on the attack. Even when the previous District Attorney George Gascon was not running for office or did not have an opponent, the SF POA bought radio ads to attack him. We should presume that it will attack Chesa as he gets into the business of reforming the DA’s office. Openly and viciously. Even though their election strategy backfired, the smear tactic of fear and lies usually works, so it’s still in their playbook.
The Benefit of the Battle
In SF, the POA lost the battle for SF DA. One benefit of the battle, however, is that the POA was exposed in the light of day – for all to see. This represents an opportunity for progressives everywhere to highlight the role that the POA plays in every community. In every city, county and state, the POAs band together to reinforce repressive and racist policies that undermine the fabric of the community. In every progressive challenge to the status quo, not just a District Attorney race, look for the POA to have a hand in fighting back and holding the line.
For example, the National Police Association states it has “a mission of combating the influence of anti-police activists and helping to hold them accountable.” It “use[s] the law as a method to highlight abuses by antipolice elected officials, change behavior, and seek corrective action.” One example of its work in 2018 was to request an investigation of San Jose’s independent police auditor. NPA directly challenged the auditor’s “fitness” to serve in his appointed role.
We all know that knowledge is power. So, we need to make sure that everyone knows how the POA uses its power in the shadows. They defend corrupt cops and threaten elected officials. They are both well organized and extremely well-funded. Their goal is to maintain the infrastructure of mass incarceration at all costs. The POA is clear in its mission. Progressives need to be just as clear about the POA.