Today at the Seattle Council Briefing, CMs heard a presentation on the new SPMA police union contract, on which they are scheduled to vote tomorrow.
Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s Seattle Council Briefing. CM Sawant and CM Mosqueda are excused from today’s meeting.
I’ve already reported on the financial impacts of the new contract (bye bye, SPD salary savings), so now let’s talk about changes in accountability. You can read a summary of the accountability changes here. Included in these changes:
- OPA and OIG will be able to exercise subpoena power since there is no bar to this in the contract
- the definition of honesty has been changed in a favorable way
- OPA investigation records will be retained for longer, even for those that involved complaints that were not sustained
- an entire new “discipline review” process has been outlined that will fix some problems with arbitration, eliminates De Novo review, and is based around the “preponderance of evidence” standard
- it makes changes to the 180-day clock, allows OPA to coordinate with criminal investigations, and changes limitations to OPA’s civilian investigators
- it doesn’t explicitly require the City to bargain in order to make layoffs (although who gets laid off is determined by a specific set of rules that can’t be affected by the City Council; remember all the brouhaha about “out of order” layoffs? Yeah, that’s not a thing that is easy to make happen.)
Here are three specific things that aren’t changed in the new contract that advocates had hoped to see:
- That OPA be allowed to refer and oversee criminal investigations as well as coordinate with these investigations
- That complainants be given the ability to challenge disciplinary decisions, eitherin court or via some other process, so we can objectively see how the disciplinary process is working
- That the primary source for disciplinary outcomes be publicly available so police officers understand the standards and the public can evaluate them; and further that there be some way to change these standards if expectations of the community regarding police officer conduct change
Also concerning is the lack of transparency and clear communication around this new contract. As a subject of significant public impact and interest, I would have expected to see more attempts to engage with the community and educate them on what the changes in the contract meant. Instead the only public discussion of the new contract took place today, twenty-four hours before the Full Council is scheduled to make a final vote on the contract. There was no public hearing on the contract, no passing through committee, no CPC community engagement meeting, and very little chance for the public to learn about the contract and give feedback. While CP Juarez made the point that this contract only affects 81 employees, this understates the importance of a contract that sets the stage for what might be achieved in the SPOG contract currently under negotiation.
In better news, hopefully the flood of emails the CMs received on this topic served to demonstrate that the public is in fact still deeply interested in police union contracts and in police accountability overall. The protests of 2020 may no longer be top of mind, but people have not forgotten.
If you would like to add to the flood before Tuesday at 2pm, you can use this action alert or quickly send this email. While a few of the provisions asked for in these letters are in fact met by the new contract, it is important for CMs to know how much these issues matter to the larger community so they continue to fight for greater accountability and more investment in community alternatives.
The rest of recent Seattle public safety news is kind of a hot mess:
- There is still no serious investigation into Mayor Durkan’s deleted text messages, even though it is a felony to delete text messages like that
- Former SPD Chief Carmen Best still has massive discrepancies in her story about the abandonment of the East Precinct in 2020
- 7 months of Seattle parking tickets had to be canceled because the move of the parking enforcement officers from SPD to SDOT was screwed up
- SPD stopped investigating new adult sexual assaults this year, in spite of the fact that other departments are facing similar staffing woes and haven’t allowed such investigations to stall, and the Mayor is upset about it.
To quote Will Casey in that last Stranger article:
Has anyone even asked if police are effective at solving crime? Yes. In fact, there’s a well-developed body of research showing they’re not. From the American Prospect: “Clearance rates have dropped to all-time lows at the same time that police budgets have swollen to all-time highs, suggesting that more funding has actually resulted in police being less effective.” I am slowly going insane watching nearly everyone in a position of power on this issue operate in a public safety debate increasingly detached from reality.
You’re not alone, Will.
Meanwhile, a recent nationwide Gallup poll shows that 78% of Americans still support the idea of promoting “community-based alternatives such as violence prevention” as part of changing how policing is done in this country. Seventy-eight percent. Community-based alternatives, alternate emergency response, and providing more behavioral health care and addiction services all continue to be incredibly popular, both locally and around the country.