Urban Politics #254: Seattle Police Officers’ Contract


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.
With assistance from my Legislative Assistant Lisa Herbold.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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CONTENTS:

  • INTRODUCTION
  • POLICE STAFFING LEVELS AND THE SPOG CONTRACT
  • THE SPOG CONTRACT AND GETTING POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY
  • SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

 

INTRODUCTION

Last week, a proposed labor contract agreement between the City and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) was announced by each the Mayor’s Office, Council Public Safety Committee Chair Councilmember Tim Burgess, and SPOG.  Each announcement recognized the shared interests – including higher wages, accountability, and recruitment incentives – of our police officers, Seattle residents and City officials.

The proposed contract increases officer starting salaries 8 percent on top of a 25.6 percent raise, making SPD Washington State’s top-paid police department, as they should be. It is expected that the proposed contract also allows for the adoption of the yet to be implemented recommendations made by the Mayor’s Panel on police accountability.  I have long supported higher wages for police officers and I have understood that increased police accountability would more likely be accepted by SPOG if police officer wages were finally increased to levels that are more on par with the wages of officers in police departments in other cities similar in size to Seattle.

POLICE STAFFING LEVELS AND THE SPOG CONTRACT

Over the past four years there have been repeated requests from constituents for more police. To achieve that goal, first the City had to increase the number of positions and second, they had to offer competitive salaries and benefit packages.

During my 2 terms as Council Public Safety Committee chair, from January 2004 to December 2007, the first goal was achieved. In 2005 police staffing levels were restored to those before cuts resulting from passage of the Tim Eyman initiative I-747.  In mid-2006, a Council budget adjustment added 8 new officer positions, the first increase in position authority for the police department since the late 1970s.

Then in November 2006, the City Council adopted Resolution 30930 to develop a multi-year plan for police staffing and requested that the Mayor recommend the appropriate number of police officers for the years 2008 through 2012.  The Mayor’s proposed 2007-2008 budget included no funds for new officer positions, so I led the Council in amending the Mayor’s proposed budget – to pass a $6 million dollar public safety package for 2007 and 2008, including an additional 30 officers above the 33 approved in 2005 and 2006.

Finally, Resolution 31014 passed out of my committee in September last year, endorsing the Neighborhood Policing Staffing Plan that the Council had requested the previous year, a plan that aims to add 105 Police officers between 2008 and 2012.

Despite the Council’s funding new officer positions, SPD’s efforts to fill the new positions plus all of the vacancies created by officers retiring or relocating to other police departments were stymied because of recruitment challenges.  Low officer salaries have been a major reason why these additional positions have not been filled. Ironically, the proposed agreement to increase officer salaries is due in part to the Council’s successful efforts in the prior two years adding additional police positions as the public and SPOG had requested.  And while the Council adds officer positions through the budget process; salaries must be bargained first at the table between SPOG and the Executive and then submitted to the Council for approval.

THE SPOG CONTRACT AND GETTING POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY

The Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) and police labor negotiations have been tied together since the former was introduced by the Council. In 1999 the City Council, led by Councilmember Tina Podlodowski, passed the historic legislation that created the OPA structure.  Like other laws relating to the OPA since 1999, this first OPA legislation was passed by the Council before it was brought to the labor bargaining table.  It was this historic legislation that served as the starting point for negotiations relating to police accountability with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG).  In the SPOG contract that ran 1998 through 2002 the new OPA was included.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

The final outcome should result in SPD being able to now fill the additional positions that the Council has approved and the public will hopefully be receiving a more independent and effective OPA.

The Council is now in the process of soliciting new members to the OPA Review Board. Any interested citizens should contact the Council’s current Public Safety Chair Tim Burgess’s office at tim.burgess@seattle.gov.

The Council sets policy and the lawyers negotiate elements of it in a labor contract. Legislative items that are not agreed to at the negotiating table can result in amendments to the previously passed legislation – this happened in February 2002 when, to reflect the agreement at the bargaining table, the Council amended the original 1999 bill.

Last year the City was in the midst of negotiations with SPOG when an Office of Professional Accountability Review Board’s report on officer conduct was released.  The resulting publicity over the need for greater civilian oversight spurred the Mayor to appoint a citizens panel to make recommendations for improving the Office of Professional Accountability.

In February of 2008, the citizens’ panel released a report of 29 improvements to the OPA. Of those 29 recommendations, three have already been adopted by the Council in either an ordinance or in the budget when I chaired the Public Safety Committee:

  1. Requiring the Chief to report on the reason for not accepting the OPA Director’s recommendation, Ordinance 122513; passed 8-0
  2. Funding the OPA office as an independent entity by giving it a budget that SPD can’t touch without prior Council approval (budget – passed 9-0).
  3. Funding additional training of OPA Sergeants for internal investigations because they require specialized training that is different from regular criminal investigations and OPA training has been insufficient to meet the needs of the investigators (budget – passed 9-0).

In 2006 the Council unanimously passed another important piece of legislation to restore the OPARB citizen-review function as intended by the Council in passing the original enacting OPA legislation in 1999.  SPD provision of uncensored reports to the OPA Review Board was negotiated out of the SPOG contract that ran 1998 through 2002.

Ordinance 122126 restores that function. Since the bill’s passage, the City Attorney has appealed a recent decision of an administrative hearings officer requested by SPOG to void ordinance 122126 (see UP 247).  I’m confident the City Attorney will win this on appeal.

The confluence of the need for both an improved police benefits and salary package with the need for greater accountability to the public resulted in all 29 proposals being brought before SPOG while their labor negotiations were underway. The result appears to be a win for each SPOG, the City, and the public. Although the details of the agreement have not been delivered to the Council as of this writing, my expectation is that all of the citizens’ panel recommendations are being adopted while the officers will be receiving a much better pay and benefits package.

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