New police officer contract released, sent to Council for approval

Today the Mayor’s Office transmitted to the City Council the new contract negotiated last month with the Seattle Police Officers Guild, in the process releasing it to the public for the first time.

The contract runs from January 1, 2015 (when the previous contract expired) through December 31, 2020 — six years in total, though it expires two years from now. It includes retroactive pay raises for police officers, who have gone without a raise since 2014.

The City Council will need to approve the contract, as well as additional budget allocations totaling $65 million for the back pay. The legislation to do that was introduced into the Council’s legislative process this afternoon and referred directly to the full Council (as often happens to bills introduced during the budget process when committees don’t meet), which means that the Council could approve it as soon as next Monday. However, there is no word yet from the Council as to what process they intend to follow. The Community Police Commission issued a statement today complaining about the contract and announcing its own meeting on Wednesday to discuss it further:

The tentative contract between the city and the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild (SPOG) will be made public for the first time today. Mayor Jenny Durkan has scheduled a press conference at 11 a.m.

This comes after the Labor Relations Policy Committee affirmed that the principles of the tentative agreement were within parameters its members had previously approved for negotiation. The Mayor will now transmit the contract to the full Council to review.

From a review of the contract by some members of the CPC, it appears that the tentative contract gives up many of the reforms won in the landmark Police Accountability Legislation. That legislation was passed by the city council after a long struggle, with an 8-0 vote last year after receiving broad community support.

The CPC was not consulted at any stage of the negotiation process regarding any of the substantive concessions we see in the tentative agreement. We have a public meeting of the full Community Police Commission scheduled for Wednesday, October 17th to discuss our analysis of the contract and our next steps forward. 

Public CPC Meeting:
October 17, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
Seattle Municipal Tower – 700 5th Avenue, Suite 1610

Here’s the contract — all 100 pages — as submitted to the Council:

Here are some interesting features of the contract that I discovered reading it through this afternoon:

  • As a disciplinary measure, a presumption of termination shall apply for dishonesty in the course of an officer’s duties.
  • For misconduct cases sent to labor arbitration, the standard of review is elevated from the current “preponderance of the evidence” to a higher level if the case could result in termination of the employee.
  • An ongoing issue has been the 180-day deadline for a disciplinary investigation: when it starts, when it concludes, and under what conditions it may be paused or extended. The new contract spells out the process much more carefully,  It says that the 180-day clock resets if new evidence emerges in later stages of the investigation (including during an officer’s appeal). It can also be suspended if there is a criminal investigation of the matter in another jurisdiction, because the city would have no control over the speed or priority of that investigation. OPA can also request that the 180-day period be extended under certain circumstances (such as if the OPA office is temporarily understaffed),
  • The contract allows for a “rapid adjudication” process if an officer self-reports misconduct and requests the process. It also allows for mediation, at the discretion of OPA. An officer’s participation in good faith in mediation with a civilian who files a complaint would result in the complaint being dismissed.
  • The police department is required to offer at least 32 hours of training per year to officers. There are specific requirements for the courses that must be offered each year, or every other year.
  • Determination of which officers are required to wear body-worn video cameras is at the sole discretion of SPD. However, all officers required to wear body cameras will receive a 2% bump in their salaries for the hours worked in which they wear them. This will likely be a sticking point for the CPC, some Council members, and possible Judge Robart, who oversees the consent decree mandating police reforms in Seattle: a recurring theme has been that police reform is an intrinsic requirement of officers’ jobs, and they should not be “rewarded” for agreeing to reforms.
  • There are no new rules for secondary employment — though that might change in the future.
  • In general the city won concessions on several places where it is allowed to replace sworn officers with civilians, including for limited roles in special events, the HR department, and for two investigator positions in OPA. However, civilians may not be dispatched to investigate criminal activity. Within OPA, the civilian  investigators will handle all complaints filed by civilians as well as some of the rest of the investigations, but all cases that may lead to an officer’s termination must be handled by a sworn-officer investigator.
  • An officer’s grievance with the disciplinary procedure may go to binding arbitration.
  • SPOG-represented officers are not granted the right to strike, and SPOG may not condone or cause a strike, work stoppage, or work slowdown.
  • Officers may review their own body-worn video footage in writing their incident reports, except for any incidents where the Force Investigative Team is involved in investigating the officer’s use of force. Recognizing that human memory isn’t perfect (especially in crisis events), an officer who has not been allowed to review the video footage may not be disciplined forgiving a statement that is inconsistent with evidence from the video footage, unless it’s shown that the officer knew the statement was untrue and provided it with the intent to deceive.

There is a whole appendix of the contract devoted to the minutiae of aligning the contract with the police accountability ordinance passed by the City Council last year.  Among the clarifications it makes:

  • SPOG agrees that the city may move forward with implementing the ordinance, and it will withdraw all of the unfair-labor-practices complaints it has filed against the city.
  • Several items in the police accountability ordinance require SPD to write detailed policies on specific topics. If any of them raise issues that by law are subject to collective bargaining, SPOG reserves the right to negotiate them.
  • SPOG agrees that the ordinance passed last year is not the final word or the limit on police accountability; the city has the right to further amend it to increase accountability.
  • Where conflicts exist between the police accountability ordinance and the new contract, the contract prevails. Since the Council will adopt the contract by ordinance, as a matter of law that isn’t a problem, but it may raise red flags as to whether the contract undermines the police accountability ordinance (and it validates Robart’s insistence on waiting to see the SPOG contract before approving the ordinance).
  • The city and OPA are prevented from publicly disclosing SPOG-represented employees’ names in public reports and other public web sites and documents. In addition, the twice-yearly reports from OPA to the OIG will have all names redacted if they are produced in response to a public records request.
  • If additional civilianization is required under the ordinance, it will be subject to collective bargaining.
  • While the ordinance grants OPA and the Office of the Inspector General broad subpoena powers, the city agrees not to extend those powers to subpoena SPOG-represented employees and their family members, nor will third parties have the right to subpoena the personal records of employees and their family members.
  • The ordinance currently says that employees undergoing an investigation have a duty to disclose material witnesses and evidence as soon as possible, and are foreclosed from doing so at later stages of the investigation. The city agrees not to implement that; however, as mentioned above, any information revealed at a later stage is grounds for reopening the investigation and resets the 180-day clock. So officers don’t have to testify against themselves, but they can’t time the release of evidence to subvert the investigative process.
  • The Office of the Inspector General has full and unfettered access to the operations of the police department.
  • A section of the ordinance sets up an expectation that the CPC will advocate reforms to state laws that will “enhance trust in policing and the criminal justice system.” The section goes on to list several examples of specific areas of reform that the CPC might weigh in on. SPOG requested (and the city agreed) to remove those examples, lest it be implied that SPOG supported reforms in those specific areas. The CPC is still free to advocate for whatever reforms it sees fit.

Finally, there are several topics left for future rounds of negotiation and further amendments to the contract:

  • promotional exams;
  • patrol shift schedules;
  • secondary employment;
  • gender/race workforce equity efforts;
  • members of the public attending arbitration hearings; and
  • the effect of the Supreme Court’s recent Janus ruling on the contract and collective bargaining for police officers.

Of the $65 million bill for back pay through 2018, in anticipation of contract negotiations the city has stashed away $53 million in reserves over the past four years, so the hit to the 2018 budget is only $12 million. According to City Budget Director Ben Noble, the incremental increase in wages for SPD will be $40 million in 2019, and has already been accounted for in the Mayor’s proposed budget.

The contract is still a long way from being done.  Any changes the City Council makes will need to go back to SPOG for its agreement as well, and the Mayor will need to sign the final legislation. But then the City Council must also make several (mostly small) amendments to the police accountability legislation as agreed to in the SPOG contract. Finally, the city must submit the updated legislation and the contract into the consent decree legal process for Judge Robart’s approval — and he will want to hear from the Department of Justice, the court-appointed police monitor, and the CPC before making his decision. Needless to say, we’re still going to be talking about this in 2019.