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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Police Guild's Multi-Pronged Assault Against Accountability

A number of developing stories have caught our concern, not individually, but when paired together in the context of the current battle between the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Officer's Guild over police accountability reforms.

Contract talks had been derailed for over a month between the city and the guild over pay raises and the widely-hailed accountability reforms proposed by mayor Greg Nickels' Police Accountability Review Panel. But today there is some rather secretive news out today that the guild has just come back to the bargaining table despite the guild's insistence that they would not accept at least one of the key accountability reforms on the table. This resistance to proposed reform items was cited as a cause of the breakdown in talks earlier this month which forced the city to take it's contract offer of pay raises up to nearly 34% in exchange for acceptance of those reforms directly to rank and file members.

We wondered, what would cause such a radical shift when the guild had just filed a grievance with the state's Public Employee Relations Committee over the city's attempt to appeal directly to rank and file members of the guild when contract talks failed?

According to the guild, the city's move supposedly garnered more support for the guild's anti-accountability position from it's members. If true, it wasn't internal pressure that caused the guild to reconsider it's position.

Nor has the guild been unwilling to take talks to arbitration in the past to combat accountability reforms, as they did in 2001 when the originally proposed civilian oversight system was weakened as a result.

Certainly the guild wasn't worried about public perception nor pressure from city officials since they had bragged many times about how they always win PERC rulings against the city's efforts to implement accountability reforms.

So, what was it?

The only thing we can see that would get the guild back to the table would be if the city had retreated on it's efforts to get all 29 proposed accountability reforms into the contract, especially the key reform item that would allow the city to extend a 180 time limit on investigations of police misconduct when officer's brought new "evidence" late into the investigation in an attempt to beat the accountability system that the guild insists it will not allow under any condition.

Clearly, the most likely possibility is that the city negotiators are going to allow the guild to cherry pick which reforms they will allow and which ones they won't, and this is what brought them back to the bargaining table... there really are no other real logical conclusions we can draw from this event. (and we wonder if the guild might have pressured the city to abandon reforms by having officers refuse to cooperate with politically sensitive prosecutorial efforts?)

But, combine this development with the move by the guild-sponsored councilman, Tim Burgess, to remove the only experienced civilian oversight member of the Office of Police Accountability Review Board from her position and replace all members with one ex-cop, one lawyer (probably from this firm), and one civilian activist (that cannot be associated with police accountability causes per Burgess's listed qualification requirement of "The ability to gain the respect of officers..."). This move is an apparent move to weaken the accountability process from the inside while the guild itself continues to defang it from the outside via PERC rulings and ruthless contract negotiation tactics.

The police guild appears to have lined up a perfect multi-pronged coup against police accountability in Seattle. Not only do they keep the accountability system from being improved via contract talks, they'll actually weaken it by having their candidate hand-pick guild-friendly members to sit on the civilian oversight review board, giving it a unanimous anti-accountability bias.

The worst part, the public won't figure out just how badly they've been duped until long after the contract has been signed and finalized and new members have been seated on the civilian oversight board.

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