The mayor’s executive order comes one month after the absence of video left lingering questions in the fatal police shooting of Charleena Lyles.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued a sweeping executive order Monday directing the Police Department to equip patrol officers with body cameras, one month after the absence of video left lingering questions in the fatal police shooting of Charleena Lyles.
Murray took the action amid stalled negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild over deployment of body cameras, declaring that additional delays would deprive Seattle residents of a necessary accountability tool on a timeline consistent with the department’s needs and community expectations.
“We have gone around and around and around trying to reach an agreement,” a frustrated Murray said in an interview Monday with The Seattle Times.
“We’re not there yet,” he added, saying that body cameras lead to less aggression toward officers and less use of force.
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Murray ordered the deployment by Saturday of body cameras on all bike-patrol officers in the West Precinct, which includes the downtown area, and full deployment on all West Precinct officers by Sept. 30.
The department also shall “in good-faith” proceed with deployment on all patrol officers on a monthly precinct-by-precinct basis, the order says.
Prompt implementation is needed to ensure that “no further significant uses of force by police officers will be undocumented by a video record,” the order says.
The directive came a day before U.S. District Judge James Robart is to hold a status hearing on a five-year-old consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department requiring the Police Department to adopt reforms to rectify the use of excessive force.
In early May, Robart approved the Police Department’s long-awaited body-camera program, clearing the way for the city to begin negotiations with the guild.
The guild, which has a history of trading wage hikes for reforms, at one point asked for extra pay of about 1½ percent for officers who wear body cameras, The Times reported after the shooting, citing three sources familiar with the talks.
Robart has pushed for body cameras and, more broadly, warned he won’t let the union hold the city hostage by linking wage increases to constitutional policing.
“I need to show more movement,” Murray said in the interview, referring to Tuesday’s court hearing.
Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, in a statement Monday, said, “No one is more committed to equipping officers with body cameras than I am. As studies and our own pilot (program) have shown, body cameras are critical tools, not just for holding all involved to account for their actions, but also to enhance safety of officers and community members.”
She added: “We have received favorable responses from officers who have been involved in our pilot program, and with their assistance and that of the community, have worked diligently and collaboratively to design a policy that strikes the appropriate balance between transparency and privacy in often sensitive circumstances.”
O’Toole said the department also has worked hard to gain support for a body-camera program from its “community partners,” including privacy advocates and the Community Police Commission, a citizen body created as part of the consent decree.
The body-camera issue received heightened attention after no video was captured of the highly charged killing of Lyles, a 30-year-old black woman and mother of four who was shot June 18 by two white officers during a confrontation in her Magnuson Park apartment in Northeast Seattle.
Only audio was recorded on microphones worn by officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew, who both said Lyles suddenly attacked them with one or two knives after she reported a burglary of her apartment.
Murray said he met with Lyles’ neighbors shortly after the shooting, where they raised concerns about the lack of body cameras. He said he also met with African-American ministers, who expressed “real serious anger” that body cameras weren’t up and running.
He said he still hopes the city can work out an agreement with the guild before the camera program is launched, but that he couldn’t afford to wait any longer on a timetable.
Murray said the timing of his order wasn’t related to a Times story on Sunday that reported an Oregon child-welfare investigator concluded Murray sexually abused his foster son in the early 1980s, raising new questions about sexual-abuse allegations against the mayor.
He said he had originally planned to issue the order within days of the shooting, but held off on the chance of reaching an accord with the guild.
Guild President Kevin Stuckey said Monday he was confused by the order, calling it unnecessary because both sides are still at the bargaining table.
He said the guild has been bargaining in good faith toward a body-camera program, and that the mayor’s action won’t create a “sustainable program.” Instead, it will lead to a program with “many different holes in it,” Stuckey said.
Stuckey said the filing of an unfair labor practice complaint is “something available to me.”
He declined to say whether the guild was seeking extra pay, citing confidentiality rules surrounding bargaining. But he said such compensation has occurred in other police departments around the country where body cameras are in use.
In his executive order, Murray cites “compelling research” that shows body-camera video dramatically reduces civilian complaints against officers and use of force.
He also notes that fatal interactions between civilians and police are “often subject to dispute, at best, resulting in increased tension between communities and law enforcement.”
Murray also links body cameras to the consent decree’s requirement that use of force be quickly, accurately and properly “reported, documented and investigated” by the Police Department.
Other major cities, including Denver, Washington, D.C., and Oakland, Calif., have successfully launched body-camera programs, the order says.
Robart’s court-appointed monitor overseeing Seattle’s reforms has reported that jurisdictions using body cameras have found they resolve conflicts, affirm decision-making by officers, create substantially more detailed and credible records of confrontations and critical incidents, promote increased public confidence and allow police to better evaluate training and policy, according to the order.
In 2016, the order says, Seattle police conducted a successful pilot program that included comments from the community and officers.
In the same year, a study commissioned by the court monitor found 92 percent of people in Seattle want body cameras, the order says.
In addition, a 2016 survey by the Community Police Commission found that 86 percent of community members wanted body cameras on officers, according to the order.
While the Justice Department and monitor have noted significant progress under the consent decree, the order says, Seattle police officers will continue to encounter situations that lead to use of force.
Those circumstances will require thorough documentation, including video captured on body cameras, the order says.
While moving forward with deployment, the city will continue to bargain with the guild over the effects of implementing the body-camera program, including working conditions, discipline and privacy, the order says.
Beyond the body-camera talks, the guild, which represents about 1,275 officers and sergeants, has been engaged in prolonged negotiations with the city over a new contract after the previous collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of 2014.
Last July, its members overwhelmingly rejected a tentative, four-year contract with the city, prompting further negotiations over wages, as well as management rights sought by the city that would give the police chief more authority over promotions, rotations and transfers.
The city also faces negotiations with the guild over some elements of recently enacted police-accountability legislation, which significantly bolsters civilian and community oversight of the department’s disciplinary system and internal workings.
The landmark measures are expected to be discussed at Tuesday’s court hearing before Robart, who has been reviewing them to determine if any parts conflict with the consent decree.
Despite the labor difficulties, Murray said he believes some in the guild’s rank and file are in a different place than its leadership and want to know how to get past the consent decree.
“They want to get this right,” Murray said.
Stuckey, the guild president, said Murray’s order will make it more difficult to reach agreement on the police-accountability measures and overall contract.
City Attorney Pete Holmes, in a statement, noted Murray’s action “deploys the cameras as soon as possible while continuing to bargain with our police unions in good faith.”
City Council President Bruce Harrell, a longtime proponent of body cameras, applauded the mayor’s decision, saying in a statement, “While we respect the collective bargaining process and have been very patiently working with all parties involved, deploying cameras on our police officers is long overdue.”
Harrell predicted there will be a learning curve. “But we cannot stand idly by and let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said.