The war of words over police accountability heats up in City Hall

Last week, when it became known that Mayor Durkan had hired an outside consultant firm to develop a Court-ordered methodology for assessing the city’s police accountability regime, there was near-instant backlash from 24 community groups as well as the Community Police Commission. Today, three City Council members jumped on that bandwagon.

Council member Lorena Gonzalez, surrounded by community leaders, at a press conference this afternoon

This morning, Council members Gonzalez, Herbold and Mosqueda sent a joint letter to Mayor Durkan suggesting their preferred course of action to move forward:

  1. They urge Durkan to “exhaust all efforts to reach an agreement with SPOG to jointly reopen negotiations, out of deep respect for the collective bargaining process and a shared interest, on the issues of reforming labor arbitration process and addressing the 180-day timeline for investigations,” prior to the August 15th deadline for the city to file with the court its assessment plan. If SPOG refuses to jointly reopen negotiations on these issues, they request that the city notes that in its filing with the court.
  2. They also press Durkan to immediately re-open negotiations on the limits to subpoena powers for the OPA and OIG. That is already listed as a topic for reopening negotiations in the SPOG contract.
  3. If the city fails to convince SPOG to reopen negotiations on these three issues, then they request that the city inform the court that these issues must be put off to future contract negotiations, and to set out a set of negotiating principles that specify that these issues will be negotiated first and contained in a separate contract from wages, benefits and operations.
  4. They urge the city to open up negotiations in early 2020 for the next contract; the current one was retroactive to 2014, but expires in December 2020. Opening new contract negotiations requires several months’ prior notice to both SPOG and the community.

Separately, the Council members’ letter raises concerns with the hiring of the consultant firm to put together the assessment methodology. It complains that Gonzalez, who chairs the Council’s public safety committee, was not properly pre-briefed before the announcement was made, and the Council still doesn’t understand that the expectations are for the consultants. They suggest that the Mayor may still be trying to prove to the court that the accountability system as modified by the SPOG contract should be satisfactory, then the city risks extending the term of the consent decree even further. They further argue that “proposed changes are best negotiated at the bargaining table among the joint parties to ensure compliance with the 2017 Accountability Ordinance and Court order, not through an eternal consultant process.”

Finally, the Council members say that they are “disappointed that neither your office nor the City Attorney’s Office has meaningfully engaged members of the Council” on issues related to the accountability ordinance and the court order finding the city out of compliance. “We do not believe this is a prudent or responsible approach.” They ask for “fluid back and forth communications” between their respective offices and the Mayor’s in the coming weeks.

In a press conference this afternoon, Gonzalez doubled down on her critique of the Mayor’s approach, noting that 21CP, the consultant, is “not from Seattle” and not rooted in the community. Bringing in 21CP, she argued, showed a lack of respect for the work done by the City Council and the community on the police accountability system.  Instead, she argued, the Mayor should go back to the framework in the police accountability legislation passed by the Council in 2017.

Gonzalez was joined by representatives of the 24 community organizations who jointly sent a letter last week to the Mayor expressing their disapproval of her approach. Their thoughts today were voiced by Diane Narasaki of the API Coalition, and Andre Taylor of Not This Time. Narasaki said that hiring the consultants was “a slap in the face” of community partners, and called for the Mayor to “stop wasting the community’s time.”

Andre Taylor, founder of the advocacy group Not This Time that fights for increased police accountability

Gonzalez pointedly asked for SPOG to come forward and voluntarily join in negotiations — something that SPOG has not done to-date and is not obligated to do since it is not a party to the consent decree and has legal rights to collective bargaining — and arbitration — under state law. However, Gonzalez did say that this morning SPOG President Kevin Stuckey did send her a letter offering to meet one-on-one with her.

Gonzalez emphasized that she and her Council colleagues are neither anti-labor nor “anti-cop.” They are however, in a bind, since they have been strong labor proponents but in this case are pushing SPOG to the negotiating table and to make specific concessions.

Mark Prentice, spokesperson for Mayor Durkan, provided a statement in response to the Council members’ letter:

Mayor Durkan, who led the Department of Justice investigation into SPD, has spent decades working on police reform and pushing for additional accountability. Mayor Durkan believes the City is responsible for constitutional policing, ensuring a police accountability system that builds trust, protecting public safety and upholding the rights of workers. She is grateful to the men and women of the Seattle Police Department who show up every day to make the city a better place, keep us safe, and show how good policing is effective policy.

 The Court ordered the parties, with the assistance of the Monitor and the CPC, to develop a methodology for assessing the ‘accountability regime.’ Since May, the City has been working to respond to the Court’s order. There have been multiple meetings with the Community Police Commission. In addition, the national experts hired to assist in doing the assessment ordered by the Court are meeting with the Community Police Commission and other stakeholders this week. In addition, they are working to meet with and seek input from the City Council in Executive Session and will have a public meeting with community.

 The City Council has been briefed twice by the City Attorney, and the Mayor, at her monthly meeting with Councilmember González, offered to meet on the Consent Decree. 

 The City will not propose any potential next steps without the input of the Monitor, community, and our accountability partners, and without the review and approval of Judge Robart. We have a binding Collective Bargaining Agreement and also are obligated to respect state law governing labor relations.

 That process is underway, and the Court must approve this plan. After this process is complete, the City can work with the DOJ, SPD, the Monitor, City Council, community, and accountability partners to move forward on next steps and will then seek the Court’s approval.

 The City looks forward to the opportunity to engage with the community to receive input on the development of our methodology for assessing the accountability regime. We also look forward to engaging with the broader community as we respond to the Court’s order and ultimately, have the Consent Decree fully lifted.

Prentice also supplied two emails sent by the Mayor’s staff to the CPC and community members asking them to work with 21CP to provide input into the assessment methodology they were hired to create. Both make note of a meeting of the CPC this Wednesday afternoon with the five “national experts” from 21CP, to which the community members are also invited, in order to gather input from both groups as a starting point. The letters lean heavily on the idea that the Mayor is attempting to deliver on what the Judge ordered, a methodology for assessing the present accountability regime, as well as that the process is in the Mayor’s eyes similar to the one used for data-driven assessments throughout the consent decree, and that the consultants are “national experts”  (a phrase used ad nauseum in the letters).

 

The Wednesday meeting is bound to be a tense one; so far, both the CPC and the community members have been clear in their belief that the problems with the current accountability regime are well-known and the city simply needs to go back to the bargaining table and insist upon the full terms as written in the 2017 police accountability legislation.

It isn’t clear, however, how Durkan expects to break the impasse between what Judge Robart is insisting upon for the accountability regime, and what SPOG will agree to. Since Robart’s ruling failed to say specifically what was wrong with the police accountability system — he instead pointed to results of that system that he saw as failures needing correction — the city has little leverage to force concessions from SPOG.  Perhaps Robart (and Durkan) hopes that having a written assessment will make it easier to find a path forward. But with the CPC and leaders from communities impacted by biased policing lining up on one side; and SPOG, front-line officers, and other community members lining up on the other side to make the case that city officials have been unduly critical of SPD while simultaneously tying their hands in dealing with crime, the City Council and the Mayor are stuck in the middle while neither side budges. Now, with an increasingly fractious relationship between the Council and the Mayor, hopes that city leaders will negotiate a timely solution that brings the parties, SPOG, and the community together are fading.

 

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3 thoughts on “The war of words over police accountability heats up in City Hall”

  1. I will be interested to see how this impacts the upcoming elections. While there are no “law and order” candidates, will we see some candidates throw their support to the police department?

    1. There is one “law and order” candidate: Brendan Kolding. And there are three police officers running for office, in Districts 1, 6 and 7.

      1. Thanks, I forgot about the police officers. I guess I had a different image in mind when I said “law and order”. Good clarification. I know that homelessness has been an issue, and part of that is “law and order”, so there is that part.

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