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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Police Guild's Constant Battle Against Accountability

As the Seattle Police Officer's Guild prepares to march on City Hall, presumably sometime next month, their complaints should be viewed in a historical context. Indeed, for several decades the police officer's union in Seattle (SPOG) has been fighting reforms to oversight and accountability and tying those to it's demands for more pay... and historically winning both battles in contract negotiations.

Indeed, in 1974 SPOG complained that instating limitations on their use of deadly force would spell the end of civilization in Seattle and insisted that their officers needed no guidlines after it was discovered that over 40% of police shooting victims were unarmed, some of which were minors. The city initially insisted that police be authorized to use deadly force only for self defense and the defense of others, but caved and ultimately allowed officers to use deadly force when apprehending anyone suspected of a violent felony.

In 1999 public outcry over police misconduct associated with the WTO protests and several cases of misconduct forced the city to implement civilian oversight into the police accountability equation. Several studies were done and in January 2001 the city entered negotiations with the Guild. By May of 2001 the city had removed nearly all recommendations for accountability reform from it's contract proposal to SPOG. However, SPOG members rejected the contract, which included a 3.5% raise, which allowed the city to retry adding accountability as a bargaining chip against calls for more money.

The two sides entered arbitration and the result was a severely weakened husk of the proposed and recommended accoutability and civilian oversight system that was enacted in November 2001. This is the same system which still suffers from the same limitations today thanks to the guild's constant battle against any attempts to fix the loophole-ridden accountability process... and the guild still got more money in exchange for weakened reforms in what many people called outright extortion by the guild over the public's demands for police oversight.

Indeed, nothing significant has changed since November 2001, but in the summer of 2007, several cases of misconduct that were overturned by the police chief for no stated reason and the release of a video tape that called the testimony of two officers involved in a drug bust into question sparked public outcry for better police accountability again.

Two panels were formed, the OPARP by the mayor and the SCCPAP by the city council, to review the current oversight system and give recommendations to fix it. Some recommendations from the SCCPAP were legislated into existance but have been beaten back by the Guild through litigation. The 29 recommendations from the OPARP are in similar limbo now as the SPOG insists it will not even consider negotiating any accountability reforms until 2010.

Now, in 2008, the guild has refused an offer by the city of an outrageous pay hike of 33.9% for it's members in exchange for allowing the accountability reforms to go forward, going so far as to threaten pickets and lawsuits since the city has made the contract offer public... Again, the guild is insisting that it have an outlandish pay raise that would make them the best paid in the region while utterly refusing to allow abusive officers to be held accountable.

So remember, when you see those pickets crying for more money without any accountability concessions, that the guild has always had its cake and always got to eat it as well... perhaps this time the public should demand a different outcome.

*updated 02/26/08

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