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Sneak peek of proposed Seattle police contract shows big raises, but little increase in accountability

caption: A badge on the arm of a Seattle police officer.
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A badge on the arm of a Seattle police officer.
Seattle Police Department / Facebook

A long-awaited agreement between the city of Seattle and its largest police union would significantly boost officer salaries. But according to a copy of the agreement posted briefly on the website of the Seattle Police Officers Guild Friday, it lacks some of the city’s professed goals around accountability.

The contract details were first reported by the news website Publicola, which linked to a copy of the agreement posted on the website of the Seattle Police Officers Guild. Within hours, however, the contract was removed and replaced with a smiling headshot of guild president Mike Solan.

caption: A copy of the tentative agreement was posted to the Seattle Police Officers Guild website, then replaced with this portrait of guild President Mike Solan.
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A copy of the tentative agreement was posted to the Seattle Police Officers Guild website, then replaced with this portrait of guild President Mike Solan.
Photo Courtesy of SPOG

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Members of the Seattle Police Officers Guild have been working without a contract since 2020 and the department has suffered an acute staffing shortage.

If ratified by union members, this tentative agreement would extend through 2023 and grant officers a retroactive 23% raise. This means by the time the contract passes, it will already have expired.

The version of the contract disclosed Friday does contain some provisions that accountability advocates have been pressing for:

It strengthens the police chief’s disciplinary determinations, specifying that when those decisions are appealed, “the arbitrator will give deference to the Chief’s judgment as to the appropriate disciplinary penalty so long as the disciplinary penalty is reasonable and consistent with just cause.” Currently the arbitrator is not bound by the chief's findings.

And it adds two more civilian investigators of police misconduct at the Office of Police Accountability.

But it denies subpoena power to those investigators, if case records are not provided voluntarily.

That subpoena power was one of four “guideposts” identified by the city’s labor negotiator as “common priorities” of city government and accountability partners like the Office of Inspector General.

That may be of concern to the federal judge overseeing the city’s consent decree.

Rev. Patricia Hunter is a co-chair of Seattle’s Community Police Commission. She spoke about the rumored contract before it became public Friday.

Hunter said she believed the length Seattle police officers have gone without a contract is unfair, but she said she’s also apprehensive about whether the new contract will address the CPC’s priorities.

“I’m all for a new contract and wage negotiation and officers getting what they deserve,” Hunter said. “My main concern is wondering whether accountability of officers has been bargained away.”

Later the CPC said they are waiting for the contract's official release. "At this point, we have more questions than answers," the CPC said in a statement. "On first reflection, we understand this initial SPOG contract to run retroactively from Jan. 6, 2021 through Dec. 31, 2023 and largely focus on increased retroactive pay for officers—similar to what was recently approved for citywide employees. However, we remain interested in a future SPOG contract addressing Jan. 1, 2024 and beyond to include strong accountability measures."

Lisa Judge heads the city's Office of Inspector General. She declined to comment on the version of the contract that was leaked Friday. "My understanding is that the contract is still part of a confidential process," she said. "I can't discuss details until it is formally released."

Still, passage of the contract by the Seattle City Council seems assured, since a majority of council members sit on the Labor Relations Policy Committee that negotiated the contract. They include Council President Sara Nelson as well as Councilmembers Bob Kettle, Cathy Moore, Maritza Rivera and Dan Strauss.

Councilmember Tammy Morales said in a statement, "I'm not on the negotiating committee, so this is the first time I've seen the contract. Due to confidentiality requirements, I am very limited in what I can say before SPOG votes on this tentative agreement. However, I am reviewing it line-by-line and will have a lot to say when it comes before Council."

Mayor Harrell's office also issued a statement saying, "We have focused on building an excellent police service through strong accountability measures and staffing, improving the recruitment and retention of officers through fair wages and benefits, as well as building out a comprehensive public safety response system by increasing options for civilian response. Should union members choose to ratify this agreement, I will be able to comment in further detail.”

This story has been updated to reflect the response from Seattle's Office of Inspector General, Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales and Mayor Bruce Harrell.

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