Seattle Police officers during a May Day anti-capitalism march in 2015.
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Seattle Police officers during a May Day anti-capitalism march in 2015.
Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Cop contract slammed as backward step by community advisory board

Members of Seattle’s Community Police Commission said they are reluctantly calling on the city council to reject a proposed labor contract between the city and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.

The group of community experts, created out of court-ordered reforms to the Seattle Police Department, blamed Mayor Durkan’s negotiating team for what they described as a fatally flawed proposal.

At a meeting Wednesday, CPC commissioners said the labor deal weakens or reverses dozens of provisions in the city’s historic 2017 police accountability law. The deal also contains language saying that the labor contract prevails over that accountability legislation whenever they conflict. 

“This [collective bargaining agreement] is a deliberate attempt to undermine the legislation, just to keep the status quo," said Rev. Aaron Williams, a member of the commission.

The commission's stance is advisory only. A City Council committee has already forwarded the contract to the full council for a vote. That vote could take place by the end of the month.

In addition to approaching the city council, commissioners are also looking at next steps at the U.S. District Court, where Judge James Robart is overseeing Seattle’s compliance with a federal consent decree to reduce biased policing and excessive force. Judge Robart has warned the city about its labor contract; if it doesn't comport with the city's accountability legislation, he said, the city's progress would be "imperiled."

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CPC members said they will confer with their lawyer on how best to bring their concerns to the court.  

"We have to reject this,” CPC co-chair Enrique Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez says he doesn’t fault the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild for negotiating a strong contract, but rather the mayor’s negotiating team. “I’m baffled as to why we’re the ones who have to explain that and our elected officials are not doing their job by doing it themselves.”

Mayor Durkan defended the proposal in a statement Wednesday.

“I respectfully disagree with the Community Police Commission," she said. "This contract advances both police reform and public safety. A failure to enact the contract jeopardizes both." She noted her role in crafting the consent decree as U.S. Attorney in 2012 and said, "I have made clear we will not go backwards."

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The CPC's analysis said the contract would weaken the oversight powers of the Office for Police Accountability, and make it harder to investigate and administer discipline for findings of misconduct.

Commissioner Lisa Daugaard said each of the provisions in the new law was painstakingly developed in response to previous scandals, such as the 2014 controversy over the multiple routes to appeal police disciplinary findings, or another controversy about conflicts of interest for police working in secondary employment. But it’s hard to educate the public on these complex details. “Unions remember while everybody else forgets,” she said.

Daugaard said Seattle police “deserve a fair wage” and noted that the commission endorsed the recent contract with Seattle’s other police union, the Seattle Police Management Association.

“The issue isn’t the money,” the CPC said in a statement. “Apart from fairness to officers, Seattle needs to pay wages that ensure we can compete for, hire and retain the most appropriate police workforce for our city.” The contract contains about a 17 percent raise for officers, over six years.

Two seats on the CPC are designated for union representatives, but they were empty at Wednesday’s meeting. The Seattle Police Management Association has “refused to fill their position” since January, according to CPC executive director Fé Lopez. SPOG President Kevin Stuckey was also not present. Lopez said he has had scheduling conflicts but SPOG wants to keep the seat and hopes to have another representative appointed soon.

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Police union representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

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