A police union’s endorsement of Trump is not a happy one

Last week during a campaign event, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after former President Donald Trump’s xenophobic rant, James Tignanelli, head of the Police Officers Association of Michigan (representing 10,000 members) announced that the organization which he leads, was endorsing the former President’s bid for reelection.

Historically this kind of support, should come as no surprise. Police officer associations, organizations and unions (not all the same) have endorsed candidates (typically Republican) running for all levels of political office. Moreover, in March 2024, the International Union of Police Associations (with its 10,000 members) and the Florida Police Benevolent Association (FBPA), Florida’s largest law enforcement union also gave their blessing to Trump’s reelection bid.

That being said, although the rank and file law enforcement officers can vote their own consciences, current police union endorsements appear unusual, if not contradictory, when one is to consider the events of January 6, 2021, when Trump encouraged a large unruly mob to storm the capitol.

Not only did the public see televised images of insurrectionists breaking into the capitol, but beating and injuring Capitol Police and other law enforcement officers who were sent in to end the siege. In the end there were numerous injuries and a handful of deaths, and several criminal indictments, and convictions of insurrectionists.

From their role as strike breakers to policing protests, police (more specifically their unions and associations) have always been a conservative lot. But supporting Trump in this manner is unusual in this current context.

This begs a number of questions.

Although the endorsement was criticized by a handful of Trump critics, and raised eyebrows in selected quarters of social media, the largest labor organizations representing the interests of police in the United States, such as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) (355,000 members); and National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) (241,000 members) were silent. Maybe they are waiting to see if Trump is convicted of criminal charges, but given their 2020 endorsements of Trump, it’s quite likely that they will endorse Trump in 2024.

Thus, beyond the obvious, (i.e., Trumps approach to law and order, and the border crisis) why are the police officer unions, associations and organizations enabling Trump?

It might be that the police unions, and their heads want more national attention and by staking out a controversial position like supporting Trump they believe that it’s a good way to go about accomplishing this.

Alternatively, they don’t know any better. They may be low information voters. And thus, it they have taken a position regardless of the information that is presented to them.

More realistically, there is a general inability among many of Trump’s supporters to see or recognize contradictions in their actions and beliefs. Often they seem to be comfortable with compartmentalizing beliefs that to other people would seem to be contradictory. They may also be suffering like many of us from cognitive inflexibility.

So, how might we respond to police unions supporting Trump?

It’s tempting to put both hands in the air and say that you give up.

However, those of us who work in or with the criminal justice profession—be it as practitioners, instructors, or scholars—possess a unique vantage point that allows us to wield some influence.

Many of our students are former, current, or aspiring law enforcement officers, thus offering us a direct avenue for engagement. By actively confronting the contradictions within their beliefs, we might be able to provide them a deeper understanding. This is not easy and will involve regular and consistent dialogue and mentorship, where we attempt to professionally dissect their perspectives and challenge their ingrained notions. Through these efforts, we might be able to foster critical introspection, not only affecting their political beliefs, but with this knowledge, they may also be able to influence their co-workers so that they too make more critical decisions about their political future.


Photo Credit:

Photographer: Mostafa Bassim

Title: Police clash with a mob of Trump supporters who breached security and stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.