African Americans and Law Enforcement: Tackling a Foundational Component of Structural Reform-Union Disciplinary Procedures

David R. Hodge, Stephanie Clintonia Boddie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite numerous high-profile deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement, little attention has been paid to the issue of police reform in the social work literature. To address this gap, this article focuses on a topic that has been singled out as the most important area of potential reform: restructuring the disciplinary provisions embedded in the contracts negotiated between police unions and municipalities. These provisions frequently shield problematic officers from public accountability by hindering their identification, sanctioning, and dismissal. Given that collective bargaining agreements are typically negotiated behind closed doors, social workers can play an essential role by advocating for public negotiations between municipal and union leaders, so provisions that obstruct public accountability for unfit officers can be identified and eliminated. The article concludes by delineating three alternative models to the status quo-increased neighborhood policing, disbanding or defunding police departments, and police abolition zones-and notes that no model can be successful if those who abuse their power cannot be removed from their positions of public trust. The authors suggest that social workers collaborate with African American residents in a given community to ensure that their preferences regarding community justice are enacted in a manner that reflects their aspirations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-154
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Work (United States)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • African Americans
  • collective bargaining rights
  • disciplinary procedures
  • police reform
  • vulnerable populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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