Mayor defies union, pushes ahead with body cams for police officers

This afternoon, Mayor Ed Murray issued an executive order directing the rollout of body-worn cameras on all Seattle Police Department officers.

While the City has submitted and gained approval for a policy governing SPD’s use of body-worn cameras, and the City Council has funded the camera, the actual rollout of the body-worn cameras beyond an initial pilot program with bicycle officers has been delayed because of stalled negotiations with the Seattle Police Officer Guild (SPOG), the union representing the city’s police officers. The last contract expired in 2014, and the city and SPOG have been unable to come to agreement on a new contract.

Murray’s executive order today does three things:

  • It directs SPD to deploy body cams to all West Precinct bicycle patrol officers by July 22nd; deploy cameras to the rest of the West Precinct patrol officers by September 30th; and then deploy the cameras to one precinct per month until it has been deployed to all SPD officers.
  • It directs the Labor Relations Unit of the city’s Human Resources Department to continue to negotiate with SPOG on “the effects of implementing this body-worn video program upon officer and sergeant working conditions.” It specifies that those negotiations are not in any way contingent upon the timeline for rolling out the cameras.
  • It officially incorporates the body-worn camera policy approved by Judge Robart into the SPD Manual.

In his press release, Murray blamed the delay on “legislative gridlock.” In the same press release, though, City Attorney Pete Holmes points his finger at the union, saying “This action today by Mayor Murray will help to ensure that SPD deploys the cameras as soon as possible while continuing to bargain with our police unions in good faith.” The release also makes an indirect reference to the recent shooting death of Charleena Lyles at the hands of SPD officers, for which audio but no useful video was captured of the event, saying, “Mayor Murray is directing prompt implementation of the program to ensure no further significant uses of force by police officers go undocumented by a video record.”

Council President Bruce Harrell also issued a statement today, signaling his approval of Murray’s executive order.

“I support the Mayor’s decision today to use his executive order authority to immediately begin equipping police officers with body cameras. While we respect the collective bargaining process and have been very patiently working with all parties involved, deploying cameras on our police officers is long overdue. The Federal Monitor as well as the Federal Judge have approved their deployment. The funding has already been authorized, the hardware platform and training is ready to go, and the policies have been approved by the Federal Judge. The ongoing collective bargaining process should not sideline an effective tool that will improve police accountability and help our police officers. Community survey after community survey states that body cameras are wanted by both police officers and community members with 92% supportive. As we move forward, I expect a learning curve for both officers and civilians, as well as a refinement and improvement of policy. But we cannot stand idly by and let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

There is no indication yet whether SPOG will file an unfair labor practices complaint challenging Murray’s executive order.