A letter from Seattle Police Officers’ Guild and Seattle Police Management Association sets up a potential clash with U.S. District Judge James Robart, who has suggested reforms negotiated between the city and U.S. Justice Department take precedence over collective bargaining.
Days before a key court hearing on Seattle police accountability, the two labor groups representing officers and commanders have told the judge overseeing reforms that proposals recommended by the federal monitor would violate their contracts or impair their collective-bargaining rights.
In a letter dated Aug. 9 to U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is presiding over a consent decree requiring the Police Department to address allegations of excessive force and biased policing, Kevin Stuckey, the president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG), and Capt. Mike Edwards, president of the Seattle Police Management Association (SPMA), do not spell out the specific recommendations.
But the court-appointed monitor, Merrick Bobb, in a recent letter to Robart, recommended, among other things, that civilians conduct internal investigations into allegations of officer misconduct rather than sworn officers.
Robart has set a Monday hearing where he is expected to focus on police-accountability legislation the city hopes to put forward involving officer discipline, appeals and civilian oversight.
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“Upon your request, SPOG and SPMA will identify each of these recommendations, and will provide you the relevant agreements between it and the City,” the letter says of Bobb’s proposals.
The letter sets up a potential clash with Robart, who has previously suggested the 2012 consent decree negotiated between the city and U.S. Justice Department takes precedence over collective bargaining.
It comes at a time when SPOG recently voted down a tentative contract that contained key reforms; ousted its president who had helped negotiate the deal and angered people with a controversial Facebook post; and installed a new vice president, Rich O’Neill, a past president with a polarizing history who sources say campaigned against the contract.
The letter says that the city and “our labor organizations have a long history of successfully negotiating changes to the accountability systems,” and that SPOG and SPMA aren’t opposed to disciplinary reform that has been a major topic in negotiations.
“What both SPOG and SPMA oppose is any non-negotiated breach in its collective bargaining agreement or rights,” the letter adds.
SPOG represents sergeants and officers; SPMA represents captains and lieutenants.
Neither Stuckey nor Edwards could be reached for comment. Stuckey, since taking over the union, has repeatedly declined to return calls regarding union issues.
In another development, a citizen advocacy panel seeking a major role in Seattle police reforms mounted a public campaign Wednesday, using social media to urge people to attend Monday’s hearing.
The Community Police Commission (CPC), a temporary body created as part of the consent decree, hosted a Facebook live event to explain its efforts and ask the community to attend Monday’s court hearing to learn about the accountability recommendations and the next steps.
On Tuesday, Robart denied a request from city and federal attorneys to move forward with legislation, saying he should first review the proposals to identify any elements that conflict with the consent decree. The two parties had suggested he review the legislation after its enactment to flag any conflicts.
His order authorized the city to draft legislation for his review, saying he would offer guidance on how to proceed.
Robart previously has chastised the CPC’s effort to become a permanent body, calling it a premature power grab as he earlier halted the legislation. He has warned the 15-member commission its future is not assured, an issue that could arise during Monday’s hearing.
In turn, the CPC has bemoaned delays in proceeding with the legislation.
During the Facebook event, the CPC’s co-chair, Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association, cited the commission’s longstanding push for aggressive police-accountability reforms.
She also pointed to new recommendations. One would require collective bargaining between the city and its police unions to be carried out in the “light of day” instead of in secret, while another calls for exploring outside investigations when officers use deadly force.
Another would strengthen the independence of civilian officials who oversee internal investigations and oversight in the police department, as well as the CPC and its staff, immunizing them from “political pressure.”
The CPC also has urged Robart to consider more recommendations for police accountability than those proposed by the federal monitor.
It said it would host another Facebook live event shortly after Monday’s hearing.