Former Councilmember Tim Burgess and Chief Carmen Best press the council to ratify the deal; Seattle King County NAACP joins police commission and civil-rights groups who worry it undermines police reforms.
The looming Seattle City Council vote over whether to ratify a tentative labor contract between the city and its rank-and-file police union is generating political friction right down to the wire, with former Councilmember Tim Burgess and Police Chief Carmen Best urging passage even as the local chapter of the NAACP announced it would oppose the deal.
Burgess, a former Seattle police detective who spent a decade on the City Council, lends his reputation as a staunch police reformer to an 11th-hour effort to help Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle Police Officers Guild convince the council to pass the contract, even if it contains some flaws. The vote is Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Seattle King County NAACP announced a news conference at City Hall on Tuesday morning, where it will join the civilian Community Police Commission and a group of 24 civil-rights and activist groups in opposition to the deal, endorsing their contention that it rolls back police-accountability legislation passed by the council last year.
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While all this was happening, Best sent a letter to Council President Bruce Harrell and M. Lorena González, chair of the council’s public-safety committee, imploring the council to ratify the agreement.
Seven council members must approve the deal in order to ratify it. They are not allowed to amend it.
In a two-page statement, Burgess wrote that he cares deeply about the need for professional, constitutional policing for all people, including the most marginalized. And police officers should be given respect and compensation for doing what “most of us would never perform ourselves,” he said.
“This is why I believe the City Council on Tuesday afternoon should approve the proposed collective bargaining agreement with our police officers,” Burgess wrote, while acknowledging there are some parts of the contract that need further work.
Burgess said he hoped U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is overseeing a 2012 consent decree requiring the Seattle Police Department to address excessive force and biased policing, will address the issues and possibly others when he ultimately reviews the contract and accountability legislation.
During his 10 years on the council before stepping down last November, Burgess spearheaded police-reform legislation, helped hire police chiefs and fought for the appointment of a federal monitor who held the city to tough standards as it cleared the first stage of court oversight earlier this year and entered a second. Burgess served as interim mayor for 71 days last fall.
Burgess said the contract puts Seattle near the middle of pay levels among seven benchmark West Coast cities, and will help with recruitment of new officers and slow the loss of officers leaving for higher salaries and signing bonuses.
It also continues the reform process that began in 2012, with more civilian oversight of the Police Department and civilian involvement in internal investigations, his statement said.
The contract also ensures more transparency; resolves confusion and conflict over appeals of discipline; strengthens the police chief’s management authority; and permits full implementation of body-worn cameras on officers that build public trust, Burgess wrote.
“As with all collective bargaining agreements, during the back and forth of good-faith negotiations, the city didn’t get everything it wanted, but, in my opinion, it got enough,” he said.
The problem areas, Burgess wrote, include a “nebulous” review standard for some disciplinary appeals, when it would be fairer to officers and the public to have a uniform approach.
There also is still ambiguity in the 180-day clock for completing internal investigations, despite adjustments, and wording governing how internal investigations are carried out when there also is a criminal inquiry into officer conduct “needs fixing,” Burgess wrote.
He also cited lingering issues surrounding management of off-duty work that have been left unresolved in the contract.
Those issues have also been flagged by the city-sponsored Community Police Commission and the 24 community organizations and coalitions who have urged the City Council to reject the contract.
Burgess wrote that rejecting the deal will trigger a “fierce legal battle” and “grueling process” that could take months or years to resolve.
He further noted that officers and sergeants in the 1,300-plus member guild have been working without a contract for nearly four years. The six-year deal would cumulatively boost wages by more than 17 percent, retroactive to 2015.
“City Council rejection of the contract will also block implementation of the reforms that are included in the proposed contract, and they are substantial,” Burgess wrote. “Rejection is an all-or-nothing approach that doesn’t reflect the practicality of collective bargaining and management-labor relationships.”
Best, in her letter, wrote, “Absolutely nothing in the proposed labor agreement pulls this Department back from the path of continuous reform.”
Gerald Hankerson, president of Seattle King County NAACP, said in a statement that his organization understands there will be legal consequences if the proposed contract is rejected.
“However, none greater than the loss of life we have already suffered and the possible lives lost if police reform and accountability fails to continue to move forward in our city,” Hankerson said.