An SPD car at the 2017 Fiestas Patrias Parade in South Park

Public Hearing on Seattle Police Union Contract Considered a ‘Sham’ by Some, Progress by Others

by Luna Reyna

Tuesday evening, the Seattle City Council Public Safety and Human Services Committee held the only public hearing where community members could give input on the upcoming Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA) contract before closed-door negotiations.

SPMA represents 94 officers, the command staff of the Seattle Police Department (SPD). The larger Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), represents the majority of sworn officers.

The City and unions negotiate wages, working hours, and working conditions. For police unions, the negotiations also include police accountability efforts — a heated issue that’s only grown since the 2012 Department of Justice investigation found that the SPD engaged in excessive force and discriminatory policing.

Similar incidents of excessive force on a large scale were documented during and after the protests of 2020, and studies reveal that SPD continues to disproportionately target Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color.

Recommendations From Police Accountability Bodies

The three police accountability bodies, the Community Police Commission (CPC), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) were all present at the meeting to hear public comment about what provisions to the current SPMA agreement Seattle residents want to see.

Before public comment was introduced, the representatives of each of these bodies shared their recommendations and reflections on the progress since the 2017 ordinance that recommended a range of police oversight actions and a disciplinary system to prevent future police misconduct.

Rev. Dr. Patricia L. Hunter, one of the co-chairs of the CPC, noted that the ordinance has not been fully implemented, which she says continues to cause issues between police contract terms and the legal requirements around the consent decree. Hunter outlined three areas that the CPC believes the council and SPMA should focus on for this new round of contract negotiations.

The CPC maintains that union approval of extensions of the 180-day timeline to finish an investigation into officer misconduct conducted by the Office of Police Accountability should not be required when OPA is not responsible for the delay.

Second, the CPC proposes that the statute of limitations should not apply for serious excessive force.

Lastly, the CPC requested that “police agencies provide greater oversight through internal regulations and management of all secondary employment for SPD officers so that SPD officers cannot work for other employers when off duty while still wearing SPD uniforms, carrying weapons, and maintaining the powers and authority of on-duty officers.”

The CPC also mentioned concerns about the biased culture prevalent within the Seattle Police Department.

“We hope that this contract will ensure that discipline of those who engage in racist, sexist homophobic, bigoted acts that allow these acts to go unpunished will be held accountable,” Hunter said.

Bessie Scott, deputy inspector general for public safety from the OIG, pointed out that the OIG submitted a memorandum in 2019 to the Seattle City Council identifying potentially problematic provisions in the SPMA agreement to highlight areas of focus for the City in bargaining efforts and to actualize the accountability reforms that the 2017 ordinance had intended.

The 2019 memorandum reiterated the need for transparency, community trust efforts, authority, and sustainability for accountability entities such as subpoena power for OPA and OIG, arbitration reform, OPA authority in criminal cases, and clarification on the 180-day timeline that CPC addressed as well.

Scott acknowledged what she called “substantial strides” that have addressed specific concerns raised by OIG and other stakeholders in the current SPMA agreement.

“The current SPMA presents a dramatic step forward in fostering meaningful oversight of the Seattle Police Department and increasing accountability and transparency to the community,” Scott said. “Addressing these remaining recommendations and future payments will further strengthen the accountability system established by the City in 2017.”

Justin Pirelli, representing the Office of Police Accountability, pointed out that the SPMA agreement is a step in the right direction toward the 2017 accountability ordinance but it has only been in place just over a year so there is limited experience operating under that agreement, especially considering less than 4% of accountability cases fall under the SPMA agreement because when there are multiple officers involved, some of whom are part of the SPOG agreement, the case defaults to the SPOG agreement.

Public Comment

Pirelli turned his attention to the public and expressed interest in hearing more from residents on the contract. Lisa Herbold, councilmember and chair of the Public Safety and Human Services Committee, moved to public comment by in-person and virtual residents who wanted to air their grievances against SPD, to share their support for SPD, or who had comments about provisions to the current SPMA agreement.

One commenter pointed out that the lack of public presence at such an important public hearing was largely due to City Council only announcing it eight days ago and Herbold sharing it just four days before. “That really doesn’t allow enough time for unpaid members of the public, who are activists who may have been egregiously harmed by policing, to put together an impressive and informed show of public comment,” the commenter said, “so I think that we can assume that going into this round of SPMA contract negotiations, the public is really not represented. This isn’t satisfactory at all. It’s a sham.”

Amy Summers, a member of the citizens’ organization P4 (Proactive Persistent People for Progress) brought issues with several sections of the agreement, including the police officers’ Bill of Rights parameters that describes the minimum rights of an officer, “but where the language of the contract or the past practices of the Department grant the officer greater rights, those greater rights shall pertain.”

“That to me and to our committee seems like opening up a terrible potential for going back rather than forward,” Summers said. She also pointed to the language of the contract, asking that there be unequivocal language saying the officers are subject to the 2017 accountability ordinance.

Another recommendation was a request to not renew the SPMA contract at all. “I call you to not renew the Seattle Police Management Association contract,” Molly Somerset said. “As the committee responsible for public safety, I look forward to taking steps away from an institution that has always been about maintaining white supremacy and suppressing the working class and poor.” Somerset also called for an end to qualified immunity.

Next Steps

The hearing is required to be held at least 90 days before bargaining begins, so community input can still be submitted by emailing Councilmember Lisa Herbold. The community input will be submitted to the Labor Relations Policy Committee that includes Council President Debora Juarez, Councilmembers Herbold, Andrew Lewis, Teresa Mosqueda, and Alex Pedersen. It also includes Dan Eder, director of policy for the Mayor’s Office; Julie Dingley, director of the City Budget Office; the senior deputy mayor; Kimberly Loving, director of Seattle Human Resources; and Jeremy Racca, chief of staff and general counsel for the Mayor’s Office.

The Labor Relations Policy Committee meets regularly and creates the proposed contract with SPMA which lasts for one to five years. If an agreement is reached, SPMA would ratify the agreement through a vote of its union membership and the City ratifies it through a majority vote of the council in open session.

Luna Reyna is a South Seattle writer and broadcaster whose work has identified, supported, and promoted the voices of the systematically excluded in service of liberation and advancing justice. She was Crosscut’s Indigenous Affairs Reporter and her work has appeared in the South Seattle Emerald, Prism Reports, and Talk Poverty. Luna is proud of her Little Shell Chippewa and Mexican heritage and is passionate about reporting that sheds light on colonial white supremacist systems of power.

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