Fraternal Order Of Police President: 'We All Agree That We Need To Have Some Reform' Patrick Yoes, who leads the nation's largest police union, says his responsibility is to ensure "quality law enforcement" nationwide. Critics, however, say police unions are stifling reform.

Fraternal Order Of Police President: 'We All Agree That We Need To Have Some Reform'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

George Floyd's death ignited mass demonstrations and calls around the world for justice. Today his story will echo in the halls of Congress. Floyd's brother will be one of a number of witnesses who will testify at a congressional hearing. That hearing will focus on excessive force by police and on racial violence. And it comes two days after congressional Democrats unveiled legislation to overhaul policing in the U.S. Congressional Republicans, led by Senator Tim Scott, are putting together their own package of proposals.

So what's the view of all this from the largest law enforcement union in the United States? We've got Patrick Yoes with us. He is the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police. Thank you so much for being with us this morning, Mr. Yoes.

PATRICK YOES: Thank you for having me today, Rachel.

MARTIN: So there are a range of things happening right now. On one extreme, we see what's happening in Minneapolis with the pledge to dismantle the current policing system there. But there is a growing consensus that police in this country can't go on the same way, that some reforms need to happen. Do you agree with that?

YOES: Well, Rachel, I absolutely do. I think the authority and the powers that are given to law enforcement also are given with a certain amount of trust. And as a free society, we have a responsibility to constantly analyze and find ways to be able to improve the criminal justice system. So we welcome the opportunity to sit down and have some meaningful fact-based discussions on ways to improve the law enforcement community.

If you look across the country, you'll see law enforcement agencies who truly get it. They have the night (ph) - the correct mixture of services and support in the community because they've built that trust because they run professional agencies that take into consideration all of these factors. And I think that's what we need to do is take a good hard look at places that truly get it and how they've been able to jump ahead of this and not have the problems we see in other cities. There are lessons to be learned here, and we need to look at those.

MARTIN: Let's get into the specifics, if we could. The proposals unveiled by congressional Democrats would prohibit police from using chokeholds, create a national registry to track police misconduct, lower legal standards to pursue penalties for police misconduct and ban certain no-knock warrants - among other things. Those are just the issues that are top billing here. Which of those reforms, if any, would be acceptable to you and the union?

YOES: Well, there is a consensus model having to do with use of force that was adopted by 11 organizations who collectively came together years ago and adopted a set of standards. And chokeholds are not in the consensus model standards that are adopted throughout this country. But not every agency uses that model. And so we would like to see some type of standardization of models across this country. We feel that the consensus model, which was created by the majority of law enforcement recognizing the correct and proper way to have this use of force continuum, is the best model. So that's what we've been pushing, and we actually helped to draft it quite a few years ago.

MARTIN: So the other issues - creating a national registry to track police misconduct - you're on board with that?

YOES: Well, we had a great deal of discussion over this past week trying to find a path forward and solutions. So yes, we're not opposed to - last thing we want to do is have bad cops on the street. We want to correct this. We want to find a proper way to do it. Our concern falls in the manner in which it's done. Across this country, there is a lack of consistency on how these - how this would be applied. So if we can find a national standard with a due process to agree that if people who - you know, to make sure that the system is fair, then we absolutely are. And we always have been. The problem has always been in the lack of consistency across this country.

So we - working with the IACP, the International Chiefs Association (ph), we have entered this discussion and came up some pretty good - some sound direction to go. And we're meeting and having - continue to have these discussions to find some national presence where we can have some fair and open discussion on a way, a path forward in order to take bad cops off the streets.

MARTIN: I want to ask you perhaps a question that is more personal in nature because it has to do with police unions themselves. I want to play a bit of an interview that NPR did with Paul Butler. He's a professor at Georgetown University here in Washington and a former prosecutor. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

PAUL BUTLER: Police unions often stand in the way of reform. They do so with their rhetoric and with protections they win for cops. So in Philadelphia, the president of the FOP called Black Lives Matter protesters a bunch of rabid animals after a Cleveland cop killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun. Another FOP union head tweeted, act like a thug, you'll be treated like a thug.

MARTIN: How do you respond to that? Do police unions need to have a reckoning among themselves?

YOES: Look, I - you know, there's a lot of emotion involved in all of this. And it's very difficult for me to talk about each one of these individual things 'cause there's a lot of dynamics involved in it. I don't condone it nor do I feel like I'm in a position to really have that discussion.

But I'd like to broaden it just a little bit of what our role is as a union. Our responsibility is to provide the best quality law enforcement we can. And again, I'm going to go back to what I said in opening with this. There is - there are agencies across this country who truly get it, and they do it because they do it through policy. They do it by hiring. They do it by screening. They do it by training. They do it by supervision. They do it by all of these things because they have dynamic agencies. And the problem we have across this country are a number of agencies are just not up to date with the models that they need in order to be able to run effective departments.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask you, though - part of being up to date means reflecting the communities that you serve. Should union leadership try to diversify itself? The Marshall Project reports that of the 15 large American cities in which a majority of officers are non-white, only one, the city of Memphis, has a union leader who is black. Is that something you think should change?

YOES: I've always embraced our ability to be able to empower our members to lead in this organization - and continue - and absolutely continue to do so. I agree. I agree that more people should step up and run for leadership roles because we should reflect who our communities are in a reflection of our population.

MARTIN: I want to ask about police culture because the other day, what we saw in Buffalo, N.Y. - an elderly man shoved to the ground by two police officers. The man was hospitalized with head injuries. Those two officers were suspended without pay, and we saw all 57 members of that unit resign in support of those officers. What do you make of that? Is there a problem in so far as officers' ability to see their blind spots - understanding the loyalty they feel for one another but understanding what is right and what is wrong?

YOES: So Rachel, I'm - can I answer it this way? Just look at what's happening in our country right now. We have emotions that are so high on both sides of this issue. And in the middle, there's an area where we all agree. I'm confident that we all agree that we need to have - we need to have some reform. We need to have some discussions on how to improve what we're doing. The problem that I think we have in America - and it truly is on both sides - until we all take a collective sigh of relief, the tensions contend - you know, they put us in a position where we have people that are going from one extreme to another.

So if there's any message I have here is I think if we want to find a path forward, we have got to work together. We can point fingers at each other, and we can find all of the inequalities that exist and blame it on someone else. But if we're going to find a path forward, it's going to be because we join hands and we work together and we find some common ground to build on.

MARTIN: Let's continue that conversation, I hope, in coming days. Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police. He joined us on Skype. And we appreciate your time, sir.

YOES: Thank you very much for having me.

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