Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, said Wednesday he decided to resign over a controversial Facebook post about the fatal shootings of five Dallas police officers before the Guild board could oust him for other reasons.
Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, said Wednesday he decided to resign over a controversial Facebook post about the fatal shootings of five Dallas police officers because he expected his board to ask for his resignation or seek his ouster.
But Smith said the board’s anger really is rooted in his pragmatic approach to federally mandated reforms, his collaborative relationship with Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and his acceptance of accountability measures as part of a tentative contract with the city.
“I think it’s a red herring. I think, what do they say, never let a good crisis go to waste? And I think that’s what’s happened here,” Smith said in an interview with The Seattle Times. He apologized for any offense he caused when, in the immediate aftermath of last week’s Dallas shootings, he wrote, in part, “The hatred of law enforcement by a minority movement is disgusting … #Weshallovercome.”
Although he was misunderstood, Smith said, he accepts the criticism he has received, realizing, in particular, the use of the civil-rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” could been seen as offensive in the way it was presented.
He included that reference at a highly emotional moment, he said, in the vein of first responders overcoming the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Now, he said, he is “sick to my stomach” over the damage the post did.
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“If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have used different verbiage,” Smith said.
Smith, who was elected guild president in 2014, said three members of his board told him the membership was furious over various issues, with the “tipping point” being the way his post had been “hijacked” and “twisted” by constant coverage in The Stranger newspaper.
He said he was alerted Tuesday of plans for an emergency board meeting to seek his resignation or force a membership vote to oust him.
While the board has 14 members, including him, three of his most loyal supporters were on vacation, Smith said.
When he did the math, he said, he concluded he didn’t have the votes among a faction that has not been happy with his leadership.
He said he could have appealed or forced a membership vote in which he believes he would have been retained, but decided to step down effective July 31 to end the distraction he created, avoid harming the reform process and leave on his own terms.
He will remain on the board for a year as a past president and said he will offer his assistance to Vice President Kevin Stuckey, who will take over as president Aug. 1.
Smith, who will return to detective duties, said he has full faith in Stuckey, a close friend whom he considers an ally.
But the transition comes at a delicate time for the guild and the city.
Guild members are deciding on a proposed four-year contract that Smith expects to be voted down, partly over provisions giving the department more leeway on transfer and promotion lists.
Many members believe the compensation and benefits in the package don’t justify handing management more power, he said.
They also are unhappy with language that appears to give more power to the civilian director of the Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability, who has incurred Smith’s wrath over what Smith views as heavy-handed disciplinary findings and disrespect for collective-bargaining rights.
“I’m at wit’s end on what I am being blamed for,” said Smith, who has held various positions with the union for more than 16 years.
Asked if he is being made a “fall guy,” he replied, “It kind of feels that way.”
Smith said his relationship with O’Toole produced tangible benefits, including getting officers back on the street after delays in reviewing shootings, more money to pay for new uniforms, family-friendly hours for some officers and, most recently, a late-night order from O’Toole for officers to work in pairs after the Dallas shootings.
If the contract is rejected in voting that ends soon, it will complicate the city’s position moving forward with reforms rooted in civilian oversight of the Police Department.
U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is overseeing reforms to reduce excessive force and biased policing, is scheduled to hold an Aug. 15 hearing on allowing the city to move forward with legislation.
Robart could take a hard look at where the police union stands on change as he provides direction on the next moves.
Smith said that prospect was a chief reason for his decision to resign and remove his personal situation from the equation.
“We need to move forward down the reform road,” he said.
However, he said, “I think we have a very split membership and we have a very split board of directors.”
Smith said he favored accepting inevitable change and being part of the negotiation.
It’s better, he said, to work collaboratively rather than having changes “forced down your throat.”
“It’s time to realize the state of policing not just in Seattle, but across the country, and it’s time to find ourselves on the right side of history,” Smith said.