Seattle City Council approves controversial police-union contract

Many opponents of the contract said the wages should be approved, with the reforms subject to further talks


By Steve Miletich
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council voted on Tuesday to ratify the city’s tentative contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild, handing Mayor Jenny Durkan a hard-fought major victory on a key plank of the city’s police-reform plan.

The vote came after weeks of intense lobbying by Durkan, who touted the deal as an opportunity to financially reward officers who have gone nearly four years without raises while securing vital reforms such as body-worn cameras and a civilian inspector general with broad oversight powers.

“Today we move forward,” Durkan said at a news conference after the vote, where she reiterated her commitment to police reforms and called the outcome a vote of confidence in Police Chief Carmen Best.

Durkan had faced a storm of opposition from the citizen Community Police Commission, 24 community groups and the Seattle King County NAACP, all who contended the agreement undermined hard-fought reforms included in police-accountability legislation passed by the council last year.

Eight of the council’s nine members voted in favor of the proposed contract, which required at least seven votes to pass.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant cast the only no vote, saying she supported giving police officers more pay under their collective-bargaining rights, but that the parties should go back to the table to bargain accountability measures.

The contract remains subject to review by U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is presiding over a 2012 consent decree in which the city agreed to carry out reforms to address Department of Justice findings that Seattle police officers too often used excessive force and displayed troubling evidence of biased policing.

Robart has said he would review the agreement if the council ratified it, which gave council members the opportunity to condition their votes on Robart’s review.

Although Robart lacks direct control over the contract, he has said he would examine it to ensure it adheres to constitutional policing and doesn’t conflict with the provisions and spirit of the consent decree.

At a recent court hearing, he expressed concerns about some aspects of the proposed contract, but didn’t elaborate.

The six-year contract contains cumulative wage hikes of more than 17 percent, retroactive to 2015, along with new measures governing internal discipline and appeals and the creation of a multipronged system of civilian police oversight.

The guild’s 1,300-plus officers and sergeants have been working since the end of 2014 under the terms of the previous contract.

Durkan noted that even without a contract, officers contributed to the Police Department’s being found in full compliance with the consent decree in January by Robart, whom she described as one of “toughest federal judges in the country.” The department remains under a two-year review period in which it must show the reforms are locked down.

Entering into the vote, Durkan and Best said passage of the contract was crucial to recruiting and retaining officers in a competitive law-enforcement job market.

Many opponents of the contract said the wages should be approved, with the reforms subject to further talks.

During Tuesday’s packed council meeting, Councilmember M. Lorena González, chair of the council’s public-safety committee, spoke emotionally about her work on last year’s accountability legislation and her lifelong exposure to racial profiling.

She then explained she would vote yes because the contract presented the most “viable path” to reform.

She acknowledged that, as a result of the give-and-take of bargaining, there might be flaws in the contract requiring repair.

“We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water,” she said.

Council President Bruce Harrell vigorously defended the contract, listing the inspector- general position among the key accomplishments.

“So don’t tell me we’re rolling back reforms,” Harrell said. “That is an insult.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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