Collective Bargaining Rights and Police Misconduct: Evidence from Florida

Dhammika Dharmapala
Richard McAdams
John Rappaport


We provide quasi-experimental evidence on the effects of law enforcement collective bargaining rights on violent incidents of misconduct. Our empirical strategy exploits a 2003 Florida Supreme Court decision (Williams) conferring collective bargaining rights on sheriffs’ deputies. Using a state administrative database of “moral character” violations over 1996–2015, we implement a difference-in-difference approach in which police departments (PDs; which were unaffected by Williams) serve as a control group for sheriffs’ offices (SOs).

Our estimates imply that collective bargaining rights led to a substantial in-crease in violent incidents of misconduct among SOs relative to PDs. This result is robust to including only violent incidents involving officers hired before Williams, suggesting that it is due to a deterrence mechanism rather than com-positional effects. In a separate event-study analysis, unionization is associated with higher levels of violent misconduct, and so appears to be a channel for the effect. (JEL K42, J50, J45).