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Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Seattle City Council Member Responds

Updated 02/24/08:

In a previous article, we had sent out an invitation to Seattle city council members to share with us what their thoughts were on the current police accountability reform efforts and the Seattle Police Officer's Guild's seeming intransigence in regards to those reforms.

Reportedly, the contract negotiations with the guild have recently stalled in the midsts of calls for police accountability improvements which include those made by the council's panel, the SCCPAP, and an additional 29 recommendations from a panel formed by the mayor, the OPARP.

Council member Nick Licata, and one other council member, have been gracious enough to respond to our request and were kind enough to answer a few questions about the current status of accountability reforms. For now, we're posting Nick Licata's response and may follow up with others later.

Thank you, council member Licata.

IiS: What are your feelings about the Police Accountability Review Panel's 29 recommendations?

Nick Licata: I think they are very good. There are other changes could be and should be made but these provide a solid base for creating a more responsive OPA (the SPD's Office of Professional Accountability) and one that could gain greater public confidence in its work.

IiS: What do you think the chances are of the city being able to implement all 29 OPARP recommendations?

Nick Licata: It depends on SPOG (the Seattle Police Guild). I believe that just over half could be adopted immediately without any objection from SPOG. I believe most of the remainder are ones that could be implemented without having to bargain them, however a few may need to be. In any case, having to bargain any particular recommendation means that SPOG will want the City to give them something in return, which is most likely going to take the form of increasing salaries or benefits.

IiS: What do you believe are the biggest roadblocks to getting the guild to accept accountability reforms?

Nick Licata: ...First is simply the City's financial ability to buy them from SPOG. In other words, for a price the City could probably purchase the reforms.

Second, the state law provides SPOG with a very effective roadblock to the City legislating greater police accountability because it allows SPOG to charge the City with unfair labor practices every time a reform could affect the working conditions of their members. This is not unique to Seattle or Washington State, although it is defined in Washington to a greater advantage for unions than I believe it is in other states.

In many ways this is at the crux of the problem that civilian oversight faces across the nation. It is a conflict between well intentioned legislation to protect the rights of union members from management(public bodies) without taking into account the civil rights of citizens who are seeking just and fair treatment from city or county or state employees enforcing the law. Ultimately I believe the courts will have to strike a balance between the publics' civil rights and the police union's employee rights because the only State Legislature could do so and I don't see them doing that.

IiS: Do you think the guild's plans to form picket lines will affect the council's position on accountability reforms?

Nick Licata: I don't know. It will not affect mine. I've walked picket lines many times for protecting employee rights, but as I pointed out, this is a situation where there is a clash between two legitimate concerns; it is not just about employee rights. If they are picketing for increased salaries, then the Council will need to be briefed by the Mayor's negotiators to find out what the full story is.

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