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Investing in Public Safety: The Influence of Police Unions and Associations

March 4, 2024

Labor unions have played a foundational role in our nation’s history by laying the groundwork for a society that protects the needs of the working people in the face of discrimination and power imbalance.  Police unions, however, deviate from other labor unions because of their history of racism and safeguarded position of authority in our communities. 

One tool law enforcement officers use to maintain their power is law enforcement associations and unions.

Today, law enforcement associations represent and protect the interests of law enforcement officers on national, statewide, and local levels. The largest nationwide police organization in the United States is the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). In California, The California Fraternal Order of Police (CFOP) oversees nearly 20,000 members. The largest statewide police associations in California include The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), with over 80,000 members, and the California Peace Officers Association (CPOA), with more than 26,000 members.

While the mission statements of these law enforcement associations meet the professional needs of law enforcement officers through professional development, improved working conditions, and education and training, these organizations are not labor unions. But they are some of the most powerful political lobbying groups in our governments.

Many city police departments in California have local police unions, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Redding, and more. Unlike police associations, local police unions have collective bargaining power. They are also often associated with larger statewide or national umbrella organizations and make campaign donations to elected officials who are likely to vote and pass legislation that supports the special interests of law enforcement.

Throughout history, police associations and unions have used their immense power to influence our elections through sizable campaign donations, endorsements, and lobbying to increase, strengthen, and protect policing power in our communities – and even conceal abuses of power. In 2017, a Reuters special report on police union contracts found that most required departments to erase disciplinary records, in some cases after only six months.

As they stand today, law enforcement groups are the most vocal opposition to police accountability and reform measures while supporting elected officials who are more likely to support tough-on-crime rhetoric and policies, and funding recalls against those who do not.

According to Police Union’s Playbook, “Police unions gained strength and became more militant in the 1960s, in reaction to early civil rights uprisings, as the Fraternal Order of Police and other unions worked to protect white supremacy and to block civil rights legislation, police reform and civilian oversight, occasionally with explicitly racist language.”

During the 2022 California Primary election, law enforcement groups contributed over $1 million to different state legislature and statewide races across California. The California Association of Highway Patrolmen (CAHP) contributed about $112,800 in 38 races, while the Los Angeles Police Protective League contributed $146,600 in 25 races. In Los Angeles alone, the Los Angeles Police Protective League moved nearly $4 million into an independent campaign committee that targeted Mayor Karen Bass’s mayoral campaign. In San Francisco, the San Francisco Police Officers Association (SFPOA) spent $700,000 opposing Chesa Boudin’s progressive campaign for city district attorney in 2019.

Law enforcement associations and unions hold an undeniable influence in our elections. Where labor unions have been seen as progressive groups that empower the working class, police unions stand in the way of progressive reform and proactively defend their power. 

As we find ourselves in an election year, it’s important to recognize the voices of police unions and question who they aim to empower and protect.

* For a list of all Law Enforcement Associations in California visit

Part two of an Investing in Public Safety series.