Wash. city council to review proposed police union contract after citizen panel calls to reject it

The council will review "whether this proposed legislation achieves both a fair labor contract for our police officers and the need to maintain police-reform gains," according to an official


By Steve Miletich
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The Seattle City Council will conduct a careful review of the city’s tentative contract with its rank-and-file police union to determine whether it conforms with police-accountability reforms, the chairwoman of the council’s public-safety committee announced Monday in the wake of a citizen panel’s call to reject the deal.

In a day of rapid-fire developments, Councilwoman M. Lorena González laid out a detailed plan to evaluate the proposal, dashing any chance of quick approval after Mayor Jenny Durkan, Police Chief Carmen Best and city labor leaders mounted a media blitz Friday urging the council to ratify what they characterized as a long overdue deal with the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

“It is critically important for the Council to create a process that will allow us to independently evaluate whether this proposed legislation achieves both a fair labor contract for our police officers and the need to maintain police-reform gains,” González wrote in a memorandum to the council.

In an interview, González said she had always planned a thorough review but acknowledged she was surprised last week when Seattle’s Community Police Commission (CPC) unanimously recommended that the council reject the agreement, claiming it rolled back hard-earned legislation enacted last year to bolster disciplinary procedures.

González said she has asked Andrew Myerberg, the civilian director of the Police Department’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA), which conducts internal investigations, and Lisa Judge, the department’s civilian inspector general (IG), to each provide a written analysis of how the contract would affect their oversight duties.

Both indicated they could produce their reports by Friday, she said.

The council also will hire an outside labor attorney to work with council staff in analyzing what González described as a complex, 118-page agreement.

She said she hoped to complete the review and vote on the proposal before Thanksgiving.

Approval of the agreement requires seven of the council’s nine members, who aren’t allowed to amend the terms of a labor contract.

González said she also hopes that U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is presiding over court-ordered reforms requiring the Police Department to address excessive force and biased policing, will hold a hearing to provide guidance on whether the contract conforms with a 2012 consent decree between the city and the U.S. Justice Department.

The CPC’s co-chairs, the Rev. Harriett Walden, Isaac Ruiz and Enrique Gonzalez, said in a statement that they appreciate González’s commitment to carefully examine the contract’s impact on the 2017 legislation.

“We are concerned, however, that the request for analysis from the Inspector General and the Office of Police Accountability Director misconstrues the CPC’s position,” they wrote. “Our concerns about the proposed contract’s impact on the accountability ordinance are systemic. They are not just, or even primarily, about a reduction in the IG’s or OPA’s authority, although there are some serious issues about the impact on OPA’s prerogatives to coordinate with criminal investigations, determine its own staffing, and complete investigations.”

Durkan supports the council’s effort to seek input from the inspector general and OPA, which were consulted throughout the negotiation process, her office said in a statement Monday, noting Durkan signed the consent decree when she served as U.S. Attorney in Seattle.

“As Mayor Durkan has said, the tentative agreement sustains and advances reform, protects public safety and gives our officers a raise for the first time since 2014,” the statement said.

Since 2014, the Police Department has made significant reforms including implementing policies, new de-escalation and crisis training and supervision systems necessary for effective and constitutional policing, the statement added.

“Mayor Durkan will not support any agreement that takes us backward on reform,” it said.

Durkan and Best sent a letter to Robart Monday informing him of steps to “preserve and advance reforms” while reaching a labor agreement with the police guild.

The agreement advances core reforms and requirements of the consent decree, provides a national example of civilian-led accountability, ensures the city’s ability to recruit and retain an increasingly diverse department, “which is essential to public safety and increasing public trust,” the letter said.

It also incorporates the court-approved body-camera policy for officers, the inspector general’s duties and continues the “historic civilianization” of complaint investigations by the OPA, according to the letter.

While modern policing requires constant review of practices and policies, the city is confident the agreement “moves beyond the standard of Constitutional police services and closer to a community where all — including the most marginalized — feel safe,” Durkan and Best wrote.

On Monday, the 1,300-member guild sent out a Twitter message asking its members, relatives and others to phone and email council members and respectfully request they approve the agreement.

González said she understood the wishes of the union and the labor community for speedy approval and, in her memo to the council, she wrote that she recognized the guild has labored at length without a contract.

“This reality is inconsistent with the Council’s commitment to supporting and standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the labor movement,” she wrote. “I recognize, however, that the Council also has a deep commitment to meaningful, long-term and sustainable police reform.”

At the same time, she said in the interview, the council has to take into consideration the views of people who have been have been “disproportionately impacted” by policing.

The CPC contends the deal, among other things, creates an elevated and vague standard-of-proof to sustain misconduct allegations against officers, waters down efforts to streamline the appeals process for fired or disciplined officers and allows appeal hearings to continue to be held out of public view.

In Monday’s statement by its co-chairs, the commission identified other major concerns, saying the changes would impede the police chief’s ability to sustain terminations on appeal; curtail the chief’s ability to place on leave employees who are under investigation for troubling behavior in cases where keeping the employee on active duty would compromise public trust; allow employees to serve suspensions with paid leave; and compromise obligations to retain disciplinary records.

The commission, created as part of the federal consent decree, played an instrumental role in drafting the accountability legislation, which grew out of a scandal in 2014 involving reversals of disciplinary actions against officers.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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