March 2021

IZA DP No. 14208: Collective Bargaining Rights, Policing, and Civilian Deaths

Jamein Cunningham, Donna Feir, Rob Gillezeau

Do collective bargaining rights for law enforcement result in more civilian deaths at the hands of the police? Using an event-study design, we find that the introduction of duty to bargain requirements with police unions has led to a significant increase in non-white civilian deaths at the hands of police during the late twentieth century. We find no impact on various crime rate measures and suggestive evidence of a decline in police employment, consistent with increasing compensation. Our results indicate that the adoption of collective bargaining rights for law enforcement can explain approximately 10 percent of the total non-white civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement between 1959 and 1988. This effect is robust to a contiguous county approach, accounting for heterogeneity in treatment timing, and numerous other specifications. While the relationship between police unions and violence against civilians is not clear ex-ante, our results show that the popular notion that police unions exacerbate police violence is empirically grounded.